Last month when I was watching Part 1 of the PBS documentary, Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, I heard a statement in the opening segment with a certain word in it that immediately hurled me back to five years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Guess the title of this post is a giveaway as to what that word was. But you might be wondering why I had such a strong reaction to it.
In a weird twist, a magazine article with the title, “Cancer, Mankind’s Greatest Scourge,” or something along those lines, ended up in my hands at the time of my diagnosis. I remember staring at those words and feeling the weight of them, or rather the weight of that one word, scourge. Well, of course, cancer is an equally weighty word and putting the two words together was like doubling the load of them so to speak. I remember feeling sad that I was now somehow associated with two such horrible words. It’s funny how I had forgotten about that strong reaction of mine until I watched the documentary.
So what is a scourge anyway?
The dictionary calls it something that causes terrible trouble, pain or suffering.
Yeah, cancer is a scourge, that fits.
No one wants to be associated with a scourge. No one wants to be the cause or reason for someone else’s suffering, in other words, no one wants to be a scourge. And certainly no one wishes to have a scourge growing in her own body.
Yes, the word scourge is a heavy, thorny word that conjures up images of pain, unpleasantness, disgust, death and shame. Cancer patients have felt shame and been shunned for centuries. There can still be feelings of shame and yes, shunning still happens even today.
In Part 2 of the documentary, there were many more profound statements/questions made and asked. The following ones stuck out for me.
Cancer is a disease that does not strike from the outside, but consumes from within.
Nothing is more horrifying or primitively terrifying than us killing ourselves.
How do you make peace in your mind with what is going on in your body?
Pretty unpleasant sounding, right?
Why am I writing about these things?
Because May is Mental Health Month and it’s important to separate yourself from your cancer or whatever disease or condition you have.
Sometimes a patient needs to remind herself (or at least this one did/does) that she is not the scourge. Cancer is.
Sometimes a patient needs to remind herself (or at least this one did/does) that there is no shame in having a disease like cancer (or any other).
Never blame yourself for getting cancer.
Getting cancer was not my fault.
And it’s not your fault either.
Have you ever felt shame regarding your cancer?
Have you ever felt, or has anyone every implied, that getting cancer was your fault?
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Image via May is Mental Health Awareness Facebook Community