My own reaction and that of others, when learning of my cancer diagnosis, was distinctly different from other serious diagnoses that I have received. I was diagnosed with HIV when it was a true death sentence and HIV turned to full blown AIDS at a time when life saving therapies were promising, but relatively new. Arguably a diagnosis of hepatitis C- especially after failing on treatment is very serious. But Cancer- it seems fraught with fear and loathing.
We’ve come a long way since the time that cancer wasn’t spoken about and there were true fears about it. Those fears were not dissimilar to those that many had, and some still do, about AIDS. But cancer still evokes a visceral reaction- fear, panic, pity, and compassion in ways that other diseases don’t seem to. I don’t want pity and I have little fear; I’ve been through too much tobe too afraid.
What is it about cancer? It has probably touched virtually every household in the nation. It has been with us since the beginning of human society- and longer I am sure. The word cancer came from the father of medicine, Hippocrates, a Greek physician. Hippocrates used the Greek words, carcinos and carcinoma to describe tumors, thus calling cancer “karkinos.” The Greek terms actually were words to describe a crab, which Hippocrates thought a tumor resembled. Although Hippocrates may have named “Cancer,” he was certainly not the first to discover the disease. The history of cancer actually begins much earlier. The world’s oldest documented case of cancer hails from ancient Egypt, in 1500 BCE.
So cancer is embedded in our psyche. It is the ultimate boogie man and it is, in a very real way, man’s natural predator.
I don’t plan on treating my diagnosis of cancer differently than my diagnosis with AIDS or my diagnosis of hepatitis C. But it is different- because it is part of human history. But because it has been around forever doesn’t give it more power; or it shouldn’t. We give it that power if we choose to. I for one, choose not to give it that power.