Because February was destined to be a bad month, I received some bad news on Monday that stirred up a lot of emotions.
Last year one of my coworkers in my department learned she had breast cancer. It all happened very fast. Doctors detected something, made a biopsy, performed surgery immediately after the results came back. They told her the type of breast cancer she had was one that could easily spread, especially to the bones, so she did further tests while they started her on both chemo and radiotherapy. She was absent from work from April until October. Chemo was hard on her but she slowly got back on track.
Her birthday was at the beginning of February and she seemed fine. She was happy that she finally felt strong enough to go back to her yoga classes and said the blood tests she’d just had were all fine. Then on Friday she started complaining about back pain, apparently the pain got worse during the weekend and on Monday she called from the hospital and the news was bad: the cancer’s spread to the bones and lungs.
All of us in the department were in total shock. We were asking each other, “but weren’t her tests fine,” “wasn’t she ok,” “this is bad,” and so on. I still feel a bit in shock, but slowly the shock gave way to anger. I was so angry. How did they miss that? They knew the cancer could spread to the bones so why weren’t they looking? What kind of blood tests were that that were so misleading? It’s even worse when I think that she’s having her treatments at the best cancer institute in the country, which has the most advanced equipment, the best doctors and best conditions overall.
And then I was really angry at this business of life being so fragile no matter what we do. This woman is 48, which is still young for out Western standards, and she has the healthiest lifestyle of all the people I know. She became a vegetarian when she was 15 and she always cooked her own lunch and took it to work because our cafeteria doesn’t really have many healthy foods. She doesn’t smoke or drink, and she always practiced yoga and meditation. There’s no history of cancer in her family. She enjoys poetry, nature and Eastern philosophies. She takes care of herself. And all of a sudden, just like that, she has a death sentence hanging over her head.
It makes me think, here we all are, obsessing over nutrition, lifestyle, relaxation techniques, trying to defeat chronic illness, trying to outsmart whatever went wrong, but in the end if it’s meant to be will we be able to do something about it or are we just kidding ourselves? Do we really have any power to change the outcome?
Of course, at this point I was just feeling helpless. I used to be more spiritual than I am nowadays – when I was diagnosed with MS the more I read, the more I learned, the more I thought, the more I felt this is all random. It’s like when we’re born we all enter this giant lottery, and it’s all just a matter of luck and nothing really makes sense. Feel free to disagree with me – I actually hope you do because faith can be a source of strength – but right now this is how I see our existence.
This doesn’t mean of course that I’m going to stop doing all the things I do every day that – I hope – help me be healthier. As long as they’re not hurting me, they’re fine, even if in the end it proves that they did little to make me better. The media flood us every day with tips that could help us defeat this and that, delay this and that – exercise, the next super food, etc. But how many of these studies take into account everything at play? How many of these studies try to understand all the factors that make up the context? And how are we supposed to feel if we follow all these “rules” and in the end there’s no reward?