“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Why did I get colon cancer?
Why did you?
Why does anyone?
What you think about those questions will determine how you relate to your treatment and your recovery, or how you prepare for your death. It may seem at first that there is no answer, but something as emotional as cancer is going to have a reason attached to it. At some level, you know or are afraid you know why you got cancer. Maybe you haven’t thought it consciously, but you may have accepted one of the common “why” answers.
Here’s the “why” answer from the conventional medical model, as if told to us by a child. “The bad genes made your cells go bad. That’s why you got cancer.” It was bad luck, or maybe we should blame our parents. But here’s the model some readers might get from this book. “Bad genes didn’t do it. Bad food and no exercise did.” Really? I never said it caused it, just increased your risk. Remember that most people with really bad diets and no exercise won’t get colon cancer. My goal was to get you to change your diet now, not blame your past for your cancer. Taking on the guilt of bad choices in your past doesn’t help anyone now.
The environmental model of your colon cancer would blame the corporations. “The air, water and food are polluted with a bunch of heavy metals and chemicals with long names. They caused your cancer.” Again, most people breathing the same air, eating the same food and drinking the same water don’t get colon cancer.
How about an old-school religious reason? “You are a sinner, and didn’t tip your waitress. God is angry with you, so that’s why you got colon cancer.” Hard to argue with that one. I’m pretty angry at God myself these days when I’m not gibbering in fear of him. Why shouldn’t he be angry with me? But again, most people who do bad things do not get colon cancer. And last time I checked God wasn’t smiting everyone who disagreed with him with colon cancer. It would be pretty bad if he did.
The New Age religious reason for your cancer is guilt city. “You got colon cancer because you can’t deal with your emotional baggage.” Wow. How many people do we know who can? And yet again, they don’t all have colon cancer.
We could go on and on. There are as many reasons for your cancer as there are people you meet. But none of their reasons matter except one. Yours. You need to decide why you got colon cancer. Make a story around it, and for goodness sake, make it positive or hopeful if you can.
Here’s an example of what not to do. A patient came to see me with a chronic disease. He wanted to get better but nothing worked. When I asked him why he thought he was suffering, he told me that, “God is served by my pain. He receives glory from it, and the more pain I experience the closer we are to the second coming of Jesus.” OK, so how is he supposed to get well? Whenever he feels better he is literally preventing the second coming. Avoid this sort of reasoning and try not to place yourself directly at the crossroads of martyrdom when you decide why you got colon cancer.
So, how do you start answering your own question about why you got colon cancer? The first thing to do is to go right at the reasons you immediately fear might have caused your cancer. For me they are both emotional (my parents and fighting with idiots online) but you smoke like a chimney and like to eat mostly expired processed meats from convenience stores. Whatever your immediate fears are need to be faced. Maybe you do live in a radon-filled basement. Maybe you do drink water from a well full of arsenic. Maybe your relationships are toxic and keep you up at night.
Dealing with your fear is not optional. You figure out how to live with it, or it figures out how to kill you, and so far it’s winning. For those of you think that there’s no way stress can kill you, let me give you the quick tour. Stress can keep you awake at night. Even a minor change in your sleep patterns can affect your immune system, leaving you more likely to get an infection. That infection will distract your immune system from fighting your cancer, which isn’t limited to the one you know about.
Experts estimate that we have a precancerous cell change every seven minutes. Our immune system is just very, very good at helping those cells die off before they become cancer. Unless you’re so stressed you distract your immune system from doing its job. Now, while your immune system is distracted, that night-time stress is also preventing your liver from processing the toxins in your blood. It’s running very slowly, and you’re going to be building up a backlog of junk in your system that you’ll need to sleep more to take care of in the future.
So that’s the chronic stress model of how you get cancer to grow. It’s a little more convincing than some of the others, but it’s still impersonal and doesn’t necessarily apply. Lots of people have stress, and don’t get cancer. But having cancer and stressing about it isn’t good unless you can do something about it. So that’s the point of you asking why and coming up with an answer. You want to give yourself a purpose when dealing with your cancer.
I don’t know. But I know I needed to put some context around my cancer. My doctor shrugging didn’t help, but I’m grateful he didn’t give me anything more guilt-inducing than “bad luck.” Can you imagine if he’d been a god-fearing man and said something like, “Jesus hates you?”
I still needed and answer to why that made sense to me and gave me some perspective. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. I got colon cancer because a large number of things combined to make my lower colon hospitable to colon cancer growth.
When I was in my teens, I did a karate kick on wet grass and fell, breaking my lower tailbone, where the nerves of the lower colon come out. Nothing was done for this break. A break will slow down the nerves to an area, making it less responsive to immune threats. So my immune system in that lower colon hasn’t been working up to peak for decades.
Although I eat well now remember colon cancer takes at least a decade to really grow. So I’ve got to look back more than a decade. I started eating tons of candy through my teens and horrible food into my early twenties. There were whole weeks when my diet consisted of white carbs and ice cream. Given I have a dairy allergy, this was pretty inflammatory. So I may well be paying for the sins of my youth. Sins is a little strong. Maybe the excesses of my youth.
In my twenties I traveled around the world with a backpack and virtually no money. So I ate a lot of very sketchy food and exposed myself to a lot of interesting bacteria. Maybe even a few parasites, which can raise colon cancer risk if they stay around chronically. Midway through medical school in my thirties, I went to Singapore. There I ate a lot of odd food, and also suffered from what I thought was a large internal hemorrhoid. I managed to resolve it using a range of alternative treatments so it no longer protruded. But that was 2000, fifteen years ago. Maybe that was the beginning of my cancerous tissue.
Five years ago, I was attacked by a group of skeptics determined to put me out of business. While I have come to peace now (most days), I reacted very strongly and gave them far too much energy. With any cancer growth, it is common to have a period of extreme, extended stress occurring before the onset of symptoms. Cancer needs you to be very distracted for a long time so it can get a real foothold. So there’s my physical history of why I got colon cancer.
The spiritual side of why goes a different direction. First, I’ve always wanted to be an author. Back when I was seven, I wanted to write books. But nobody thought it was possible to make any money as an author. I moved on from there to acting (another financial black hole) then to physics and on to medicine. While I love seeing and helping patients, I soon realized that my reach as a doctor is very limited. So I’ve been trying to write books. I even closed my practice to new patients to give myself more time. Instead, more patients came to see me. I never had time to write.
When I found out about the cancer, I stopped seeing patients. Nothing short of colon cancer would have made me stop. Even with the diagnosis and without a clear future I feel horribly guilty at times not seeing all the patients I have worked with over the years. But I promised myself before I found out my prognosis that I would dedicate myself to writing first. So that’s my spiritual reason. A kick in the butt that went twenty inches up and finally got my attention.
Finally, we have the “stage of life” reason for why I got colon cancer. It’s perfectly simple. I’ve spend decades analyzing myself. There was no way I was going to go through a standard midlife freak-out where I buy a red corvette and try to relive my youth. But colon cancer has kicked my butt and changed my life overnight. So it’s my mid-life crisis, I hope.
For all of you, the reason I got colon cancer is so I would write this book for all of us. You’re welcome.
Maybe for my next book, I’ll just write it without signing up for the whole “terror of death” motivational program beforehand.
I hope you have found inspiration, information, and even a few laughs in these pages. If you want my help finding your why email me at: email@example.com
Please share what you have learned with all those you love.
If you would like a copy of my book, you can order it electronically on kindle or smashwords (everyone else). Books can be purchased through Createspace or Amazon. You can also listen via audible. Thank you for your support and reviews!