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So you ever wonder why you got #cancer? #breastcancer #BRCA #hereditarycancer

Do You Ever Wonder Why You Got Cancer?

After you heard those terrible words, you have cancer, did you ever stop and ask yourself, or ask anyone else for that matter, why me? I’ve heard, rather I’ve read, some say they never thought or asked why me? In fact, some even take it the other direction and ask, why not me?

So I’m curious, did you ever wonder about, or come right out and ask your doctor, why did I get cancer?

I have wondered and I have asked  –  more than once. Even though I knew/know there were/are no answers, I still wondered. I still asked. Sometimes I still wonder, though I’ve kind of stopped asking…

What about you?

Most cases of breast cancer do not have a genetic link, rather most cases are sporadic. I imagine the shock of hearing those words when there is no history of cancer in your family, is perhaps even greater than for someone like me whose family gene pool is “tainted”.

You might think that since my cancer does have a genetic link, I’d just go with that. It makes for a good “getting cancer excuse,” right?

At least I’ve got something to blame it on.


It’s not enough.

Everyone who comes from a family with hereditary cancer risk (brca+ or not), does not get cancer. Even my mother, who was also brca2+, wasn’t diagnosed until she was in her seventies, so why the heck was I diagnosed decades younger? I know, I know, it’s not like getting cancer is better at an older age, but…

So still, the next “logical” question is, why me? Or at least in my case, why me so soon?

Shortly after I found out I am brca2+, I came out and asked my oncologist, “So, do you think me being brca+ is what caused my cancer?”

His exact response was, “Yes, probably.”

I remember that conversation clearly. I had entered intensive-information-gathering mode.

Maybe he was right. Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was guessing. Maybe he was just being kind and telling me what I wanted to hear because he knew I was trying to figure out my cancer mess.

Regardless, I did and have continued to wonder more than a few times, why did I get cancer?

I have three siblings. All are fine so far, thank God, so why me?

Was it because I got my period early? Was it because I stopped having them early? Was it because I didn’t exercise hard enough or often enough? Was it because I ate the wrong stuff? Was it because I had my children later? Was it because I’m the tallest? Was it because I’m the youngest daughter? Was it because I was on the pill for years? Was it because I didn’t breast feed long enough? Was it because of stress? Was it because I didn’t lose that ten pounds I was always trying to lose? Was it because I didn’t have that last mammogram? Was it because I had too many mammograms? Was it because I moved to Wisconsin? Was it because I’m jinxed? Was it because I deserved it? (just trying to make a point here)

And that point is, a person’s mind can come up with some doozies.

And the longer your list of “was it because of this?” ends up being, the more bizarre the questions/reasons often become.

Sometimes we really want a simple explanation for the bad crap that happens to us and cancer is some bad-ass crap. It’s human nature to want to know, why me? Why did this happen?

The trouble is, of course, many times there are no answers, much less simple ones.

There’s danger in turning this quest for answers into a blame game of sorts. And the blame game is a slippery slope and probably a topic for another day.

Why did I get cancer?

Why does anyone get cancer?

Sometimes we just want answers.

But sometimes there just aren’t any, not good ones anyway.

Have you ever wondered why you (or your loved one) got cancer?

Keeping it real. Support you can use. 

Do You Ever Wonder Why You Got #Cancer? #brca #hereditarycancer

46 thoughts to “Do You Ever Wonder Why You Got Cancer?”

  1. I gave up on trying to figure out that one years ago. I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1981 and wasted a lot of energy on that issue. Now I have gotten to a point where I do not let myself obsess over it. But it is something that sometimes you need to step back and say why me?

    1. Caroline, I think it’s human nature to wonder from time to time. It’s not even really why me? It’s more just why? Thanks for reading and commenting.

    1. Rebecca, Just read your post – thanks for sharing the link. You’re right of course, it is what it is and knowing why changes nothing. Still… I do wonder from time to time. I guess we all do. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I was in the why not me camp. Never really wondered, I figured it was a culmination of things and I wasn’t going to try to tag it to any one thing. Throughout my life I’ve had an interesting kind of luck. When it was good it was very, very good; but when it was bad it was horrid. I wouldn’t give up the things I experienced because of good luck, so…..

    1. Jane, Interesting how we each even think about this differently. Lots of things in life are a crap shoot and maybe cancer mostly is too. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  3. My mother got breast cancer when I was about 18, and I just waited for years expecting to get it and finally it happened. So, I never thought why me. I just wondered when.

    1. Ilene, Yes, the waiting when cancer is lurking in your genes… I’m kind of glad I didn’t find out about all that until later on. I’m not sure I would have wanted to know sooner. Now that gives me something else to think about… Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Oh, yeah, and I’m glad I contemplated it good and hard because I was so satisfied with my conclusion. When I’d heard the ludicrous reasons given by others, it helped me to stop questioning and see I’d done nothing wrong, that some things just are what they are. The human body is amazing, but it breaks down and needs repairs, just like a car. If I was able to squeeze something good from the horrid experience, that’s great, but either way, I figured like shit, cancer happens.

    1. Eileen, There are some ludicrous reasons out there… I like your car analogy; it’s about as good an answer as we can get anyway I guess. Thanks for reading and adding to this discussion.

  5. At the beginning of my diagnosis, I was in the “why not me” frame of mind. I felt that I was no different than the average Joe, so I was not so special as to have cancer skip me.

    But I did secretly and not so secretly wonder why. Not just “why me,” but just “why”? I asked my surgeon, who said, “I don’t know.” Believe it or not, I found that response comforting because there was no blame tied to it, and I felt that if a physician didn’t know, then why should I know? It kind of let me off the hook.

    But, I still go there: “Was it because I was exposed to pesticides when I was growing up,” “due to a stressful marriage and job,” “eating red meat,” “not having children,” etc., etc. It then becomes the blame game.

    I once asked Dr. Attai why, and she gave me a great answer: “Because it just is.” I’ve carried that answer around in my heart, and “why” hasn’t come up since.

    Great post, Nancy, about a topic we often grapple with.

    1. Beth, That’s really what I wonder about too, why? More than why me? It’s human nature to search for answers and reasons, but until science gets more stuff figured out, we are in the dark about many things. Even being brca+, I wonder what made my body so conducive to cancer cell chaos. Who knows? I love that answer from Dr. Attai. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts on this, Beth.

  6. My question was not, “why me?” It was “why now?” I am the third generation in a row on my mother’s side to get breast cancer. And there is breast cancer scattered in my father’s side. I was saying, “But, this is not supposed to happen until my mid/late 60s! Not in my 50s!”
    I also spent my life looking for a lump. Then I ended up with Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

    1. Elizabeth, That’s sort of been my question too, or one of them. Why me now? It is ironic that you spent your life looking for a lump and then ended up with IBC. Another example of cancer’s sneakiness and unpredictability. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I’ve definitely thought about this question. I know there will never be an answer as to why any one individual gets cancer, and that’s ok, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wonder about the causes of breast cancer in general and why these aren’t better understood. The known risk factors don’t explain a whole lot. You make a great point about brca+ and how having a brca mutation alone is not enough to explain why cancer develops. I think we know there would need to be more changes at the cellular level for cancer to start but we just don’t know what causes those changes.

  8. It’s natural to ask the why question – cancer comes as such a bolt out of the blue that we’d be crazy not to ask it. But then I think there comes a time when you have to let go of the whys of life and get on with the hows of life. I could beat myself up about the fact that, as a doctor once pointed out, if you had started a family earlier you might not have got breast cancer. That was something I had no control over! Besides I’ve known many women since who had children earlier and still got cancer. I can honestly say that I never once thought why me? Why not me?! But I do admit I find myself thinking these days why her? Why not me, when I hear of another friend diagnosed with a recurrence. That to me seems an even greater mystery and one far sadder to contemplate.

    1. Marie, I’m not sure we can ever completely let go of the whys, but you’re certainly right, we need to focus on the hows. And like you, I find myself often asking why her? So many questions remain. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  9. I wonder and wonder and occasionally try to imagine what life would be if this had never happened. If I had just been normal?

    I don’t know. Though I suppose knowing or not knowing changes nothing at this point. (Though it might change things for future generations of women)

    1. Catherine, Yes, normal is so well, normal isn’t it? Wondering is human nature and yes, finding the answers to these questions will make a difference for future generations of women. Another reason to keep wondering and keep asking. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I have wondered, and feel it is best, for me anyway, to NOT wonder. I don’t understand enough about science to ponder that biological aspect. And I certainly do not like confronting the philosophical, I must’ve done something in this life or a past one to deserve it kind of thing. I have confronted, and may right about it one day. But for me, it is a topic best left alone.

    1. CC, I hear you. Sometimes a person can do too much wondering. On the other hand, wondering and questioning is how answers come – maybe not for us personally, but for those who follow us. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  11. I was surprised to get cancer and more to get mets, and yes, I suppose in a sense I have wondered. But not in a blaming way or a negative way.

    My mother smoked and drank when pregnant with me – not uncommon in the 50s. Is that why? Is there a gene we don’t know about yet that I have that my siblings don’t? Why did my body make cancer when my family has not?

    I don’t dwell but it is a natural question to ask. The problem comes when you start focusing on it, blaming yourself or believe you did something wrong. I think the causes of cancer are very complicated and not easily understood. It is probably a mix of our genetics, our lifestyle, our parents lifestyle, our susceptibility to environmental substances (good and bad), diet, biology and a million other things we don’t know about. Cancer has been around since man has and we cannot blame ourselves.

    1. ButDoctorIHatePink, It is a natural question I think and you’re absolutely right that it is a mix of many things that causes any given person’s cancer. No one should ever be blamed for their cancer. That’s too easy, inaccurate and just plain cruel. Thanks for reading and sharing some insights.

  12. I wonder this all the time.
    But I wonder more about why so early? (45).
    No family history. Never showed on a mammogram.
    Found the 3.5 cm lump myself. Didn’t show on a mammogram AFTER I found the lump, either!

    But I really wonder “Why did I get Lymphedema?”
    Between Lymphedema and early menopause, my life is a living hell. I’m pretty ok after the cancer. Reconstruction was great, and I can’t say enough good things about my surgeon. But menopause is horrid. No sleep, no more sex (vaginal atrophy), and looking ugly. And Lymphedema is the worst. I would give anything to go back to my former life.

    1. Karen, There are a lot of questions that surface aren’t there? And undoubtedly there are even more for someone like yourself with no family history. I’m sorry you are dealing with so much cancer fallout. I hear you on all counts. I know it’s hard to not see yourself as “ugly” now. I grapple with that too. But you are still you in the ways that matter. I know that sounds trite, but it’s also true. So try not to be too hard on yourself. (I’m working on this very thing too). We can’t go back. It has to be forward. Good luck dealing with everything. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  13. I don’t know that I ever thought “why me”, but found my answer a few days later. At least the answer the kept me satisfied. There is no breast cancer in my family, as far back as I can check.

    I found a HUGE .. 8 cm .. lump in the bottom of my right breast back in 2010. It almost showed up out of nowhere! Called my doc, went for the diagnostic mammogram, which showed nothing! But the ultra sound showed everything! They scheduled all of my tests that needed to be done, and on the 1st head-to-toe x-ray they took, they found my gall bladder was about to explode. I never had any symptoms of gall bladder problems!

    They removed my gall bladder two days later, and I started chemo the next week. They told me had we not found the gall bladder, and had it exploded, I would have probably died before I ever knew what happened.

    So, I feel that I got the breast cancer, because I found that lump, and that is what found my gall bladder problem.

    However, 4 years later, May of this year, the breast cancer metastasized to my liver. I am scheduled for Chemo #6, and that is the last, for next Thursday.

    I joke that my body has learned how to make the ‘cancer cell’, so now I need to teach it how to NOT make it! I don’t think about why it came back, or if it will come back again. I just deal with what today brings me, and prepare myself to deal with what ever tomorrow will bring me.

    1. Donna, Gosh, that’s quite a story about how your cancer was detected. Our bodies can be mysteries that’s for sure. I’m sorry to hear your cancer metastasized. It sounds like you look at things about the only way a person can in your situation. Wishing you stable health. Thank you for reading and sharing.

  14. Nancy, I wondered the second I felt my lump. But it was not surprising to me because of my family history. However, it was surprising to me that I was dx at the age of 32 – first one in my family to be dx younger than 40.

    I was expecting cancer, but not at 32.

    Never really asked the question “why me,” as an “I don’t deserve it,” but rather asked the question, “there has to be a reason I got it so young. And I am going to find out!” This is when I went crazy testing for all possible genes – did BRCA/BART, then genome sequencing, then 25 genes related to all cancers. I am a carrier of one gene (ATM) which probably gave me the cancer (studies show that people who carry this gene develop breast cancer before the age of 50 and there is also a low risk of pancreatic cancer. YAY ME!). But like you, I don’t think this is the only reason. No way! Because we all have some kind of mutation, but it doesn’t activate for everyone. So why did it activate for you and me? That’s what I want to know next.

    I don’t know why people still say many cancers are not related to genes when they only identified 25 of them so far. I believe there are hundreds (if not thousands) of genetic mutations. So we don’t really know so much as to why.

    From a cultural/religious perspective, I found some level of closure when I was told I had a mutation. Not so much because I believed the non-sense that was said to me, but because it helped me prove people wrong – to educate them, in a way.

    I hope we find out more information about why people get cancer. But I would love more research about WHY cells travel, turning the cancer into stage 4 – the only one that kills. That would be something!

    1. Rebecca, There are a lot of questions that go unanswered that’s for sure. I have a feeling there are many more genetic factors at play, as well as environmental ones and life style ones, too, of course. Cancer is so complex. I wish we could figure out why certain cancers metastasize too. And then if and when it happens, how to stop it. Now that would be something. I agree! Thank you for sharing.

  15. I think stress played a huge part in me having breast cancer. My mother died very suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving me to look after my father. I loved him very much, but he was very depressed and devastated after my mother’s death and refused to talk about her. He suffered with a lot of physical health problems and I worried about him constantly, never letting my phone out of my sight in case he needed me. It was the worst three years of my life, spent grieving for my beloved mother and feeling desperately sad and concerned for my father. Within a year of his death I got my diagnosis.

    1. Louise, I am sorry about your mother and your father. Stress is certainly one factor that might come into play, but there is never just one thing that causes cancer. I hope you are doing okay now. Thank you for sharing and again, I’m sorry.

  16. No. I remember thinking that instead of asking “Why Me?”, I should ask, “Why Not Me?” I knew about the genes, knew I probably did not have the genes. I mentioned it to my oncologist who said I didn’t qualify for gene testing and my insurance wouldn’t pay for it. anyway, I had it, so did testing really matter? And I’d lived in places around the U.S. that had many cancer cluster sights, so maybe that caused it. Of my 6 sisters, 2 have had major heart disease with complications form their surgeries. IF that comes, I’ll also ask “Why not me?” I expected that to be my lot in life. They say they are now waiting to be told they have breast cancer.

  17. I always worried about heart problems and stroke, which afflicts my family. So when the gynecologist suggested that I take hormone replacement pills after menopause as a positive for my heart, I overcame my reluctance to try to fool mother nature. Then, 10 years later, they find out that it causes more strokes, as well as increasing the likelihood of getting breast cancer.
    Like almost everything else in cancer, it is all percentages. I can’t prove that the HRT caused it, and not the DDT my aunt used to spray all over the bedrooms to kill the mosquitoes. Or maybe the the extra weight I gained in my late 50’s. Or all three. And my paternal grandmother died at 69 from a stroke, so no one knows what would have happened to her at 75.
    Since we can’t change our genes or what happened years ago, it is probably a question best left to the researchers who may someday come up with an answer instead of kicking ourselves about what ifs or asking why me.

  18. I had heard 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer so didn’t really wonder, I just assumed I was the unlucky one. My oncologist (who was really an abusive jerk) had asked me if I took the birth control pill and when I told him I had for 6 years in my late 20’s he sarcastically played the blame game and said “Well I guess you regret that now”. I do not believe that was the reason at all. I came to what I believe is a reasonable conclusion as to what caused it and it seems time has proven it to be reasonable. It would be a long comment to explain the whole situation, but considering when I found the lump, how long I left it be until I had a lumpectomy (10 months) and the results of the pathology, my doctor feels it makes sense. I was under some stress a year or two before the diagnosis but it was something more than that overwhelmed my immune system. I always went for a teeth cleaning every 6 months but two years prior to my diagnosis I was working very long hours and taking care of my elderly mother. I was so busy getting her to all her doctor/dental/hearing aid appointments I ended up postponing my dental cleaning appointments a couple times. My dental office books 3 months ahead and it was 18 months before I got in for my next cleaning. By then I knew something was not right with my gums and it turned out periodontal disease had set in. My gut feeling tells me this was the reason my cancer tumor got started. The moral of my story is don’t postpone your dental cleanings!

    1. Rose, You might be right about the cause, but who knows? In most cases, it’s probably a bunch of factors that contribute to cancer developing. And gosh, that comment by your oncologist regarding birth control pills was out of line. Thank you for sharing.

  19. I definitely did not think “why me?”. I hadn’t expected breast cancer but I wan’t surprised. Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family but I’m a retired firefighter and we tend to get cancer (exposure to chemicals and carcinogens). Also I’d been taking HRT drugs for years. I felt like I deserved the cancer for taking HRT drugs despite the risks. I took birth control pills for years because I chose career over family. After the diagnosis I researched risk factors and then I really felt like I was destined to get the kind of breast cancer I had. My weight was up and down over the years. I never have children. My job and relationships were stressful and I didn’t practice stress management. I worked shifts and had messed up sleep patterns for over 20 years. I ate processed foods. I feel lucky that it was caught early and I didn’t have to do chemo. I feel stupid for not taking better care of myself. I’m trying to do better now. I have a young niece and I’ve been encouraging her to take care of herself. Two women I worked with are still on the job and I sent them long emails about the risk factors and pleaded with them to take good care of themselves.

    1. Eva, No one deserves to get cancer. No one. Sure, most of us could’ve done a better job taking care of ourselves, but even if we had, it doesn’t mean we would’ve been guaranteed a life with no cancer. So, don’t be too hard on yourself. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. Hope you’re doing well.

  20. I did ask, and was told because I’m overweight. 🙁 I’m hypothyroid, taking tamoxifen, and am stage 3 chronic kidney disease. All cause weight gain,,,or so I’m told. I do low impact aerobics, some light weight training, and yoga, besides walking. I don’t eat perfectly, but much better than most. But at my age, 72, I’m just going to enjoy my life and not worry too much about it.

    1. Joyce, Weight plays a part, but there are many contributing factors as to why any individual ends up getting cancer. Good for you for exercising and trying to eat as healthy as you can. Sounds like you’ve figured out a few things. Thanks for sharing.

  21. You pose — as always — a very thought-provoking question. I actually had to stop and think back over all of the years since my diagnosis if I had asked the question of why. Upon that reflection, I do recall that at the outset I asked the oncologist how come me. He of course had no answer. I, like you, unfortunately come from a tainted gene pool, with both my mother and her father having had similar cancers to mine. But it is not clear if that has anything to do with it. Was it because I worked across from Ground Zero at the time of 9/11 and for years after? Who knows. But at a certain point early on I stopped asking why me and did in fact flip, as you so insightfully point out, to why not me. I attribute this to a long history of self-criticism. Now, however, I only sporadically consider these questions. Perhaps I should think about them more.

    1. Jeff, So many questions without clear answers. Not sure thinking about this particular one does much good. But still, I asked. Sometimes I still do. Thanks for taking time to comment. Guess we both have somewhat “tainted” gene pools.

  22. I asked my breast surgeon when I was first diagnosed. There was no history of any breast (or other) cancer in my family so I was stunned. She said “It’s because you’re older. The older we live, the more opportunity for us to get cancer.” I was kind of dumbstruck by that as it had never occurred to me. But I also do the whole guilt thing where I look back at my life when I was younger and the choices I made. Birth control pills, drinking a lot in my 20’s and 30’s, smoked for a period in my early 30’s, stress, poor diet when I was younger… name it, I’ve blamed it for my cancer. At this point, I really just try to compartmentalize and just let it go or I’ll wind up making myself crazy with worry. Some days that works, some days not so much. As always a thoughtful post that brings a lot to mind. Thanks for sharing. xo

    1. Claudia, I hear you on that self-blame thing. Who among us has led a perfect life regarding choices and such? Likely no one. I always think about that study that came out a while back pointing out three factors that generally speaking, contribute to developing cancer: genetics, environment and bad luck. Two out of three of those one cannot control. And actually, we can’t control environment completely either. Thank you for reading and sharing. x

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