Monday, June 27, 2011

Got Guilt?

Cancer patients and their caregivers experience a multitude of emotions, the least of which is not guilt.

As a caregiver, I feel guilty when I complain, when I am unhappy, when I don’t fix healthy meals, when I spend time on myself, when I am tired, if I don’t accompany Jim to every appointment, and most of all when my faith flags. And my latest heaping coal: I am compelled to plan and execute frequent family gatherings or spend every waking moment with my husband—because I don’t want to have any regrets in the future.

I can find plenty of reasons to feel guilty; I don’t need any help from outside sources.

The media, celebrity spokespersons, well-meaning friends, and even clergymen lay guilt on the already overloaded caregiver. In a recent interview on CNN, Ryan O’Neal blamed his children for Farah Fawcett’s death from cancer. He maintains that because Ms. Fawcett lived a healthy life style and never smoked or drank, her cancer must have been caused by the stress of dealing with his “wild and inconsiderate” children. Who knew? Maybe I could transfer the blame to my children.

Then we have Suzanne Somers, self-anointed health and cancer expert, chastising anyone who chooses traditional treatment. This kind of irresponsible dissemination of information by celebrities lays guilt and blame on those who have enough on their plates. As Alexander Pope said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again

Celebrities aren’t the only culprits. We also are bombarded by others in positions of influence. I cringe when I hear ministers preach the “name it; claim it” message or when a friend says, “You just have to have faith.” Sifted through my admittedly muddied filter, I hear, “If your husband is not healed from cancer, it is because you didn’t have enough faith.”

The blame game doesn’t only affect caregivers. Lung cancer patients have continually been short-changed in funding because of the stigma associated with the disease. Blaming survivors for their cancer is callous. Cancer patients need all of their resources to fight the disease. They can’t waste time and energy in self-recrimination.

When Jessica Simpson, a spokesperson for “Circle of Friends” said on national TV, “Lung cancer is a selfish disease,” I nearly jumped through the screen. In her attempt to warn young women about the dangers of smoking (a laudable endeavor), she went too far in her incrimination of lung cancer survivors.

For years, we have known the relationship between HPV and cervical cancer. Recent studies have found HPV present in some kinds of lung and head and neck cancers. These findings have generated preventive vaccines which will benefit future generations but the information is of little help to those already affected. More guilt and self recrimination.

Facts can be distorted by generalization and poor reasoning. We are victims of poor logic which works like this:

1. Smoking causes cancer; therefore, smokers deserve cancer.
2. Faith is necessary for healing; therefore, if you are not healed you lack faith.
3. HPV may cause lung cancer, head and neck cancer, and anal cancer; therefore anyone who has these diseases has been promiscuous.
4. Stress causes cancer; you caused me stress; you caused my cancer.
5. Sin blocks our communication with God; if my prayers aren’t answered the way I want, there must be sin in my life.

My message to cancer survivors and caregivers: Don’t be so hard on your selves. No one knows what causes cancer. What caused your cancer is a moot point; your objective is to get rid of it. Guilt is a detriment to that objective. Eliminate “I should haves,” “I shouldn’t haves,” “If onlys,” from your self-talk. Replace them with, “I cans,” “I wills,” and “I hopes.”

No one deserves cancer.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cancer Caregivers' Unmet Needs-Cancerscope

my interview with Carrie Printz for American Cancer Society's Cancer Journal