Chapter 2

Cancer Personality; Stress & genetics?

Is there such a thing as a cancer personality? If so, should we feel responsible for the illness that we are dealing with? (Answer this one wrong & ‘BEEP’, you turn into a coconut). It isn’t specifically known why one person will get cancer and not another, though it is generally agreed upon what can affect overall health. If it were possible to pre-diagnose cancer, or any other major illness, it would be beneficial in such a way as to learn how to change our internal structure, (diet and emotions), and/or life styles (huge dept payments, 1 full time, 3 part time jobs, etc.) sooner, without a life-threatening incentive. Until then however, we can do the best we can with the information that is available to us.

Since the study of DNA has expanded, geneticists have argued that there are those that are predisposed to certain illnesses, a genetic marker, handed down through the generations. If so, what sets it off? This question is at the heart of psychoneuroimmunology where studies are showing that stress & emotions plays a large factor in our health, perhaps opening up the possibilities for these markers to become active.

Stress as well as negative emotions have been shown to systematically deplete the immune system, affecting the specific T cells that search out and destroys organisms that may harm the body, whether they are from internal, ex; cancerous cells, or external, ex; viruses. Tests have actually shown that there are less T cells in those living with long-term stress. Our emotions, through the neural pathways are forever chatting with the endocrine system, via chemicals known as neural transmitters. In short what this all boils down to, is that remaining under stress is for your immune system like what living on potato chips and pop is to your body’s general health. Creating disease vs. fat.

As for myself, I believe that ‘yes’, I was probably predisposed, and ‘yes’, the stress I was choosing to live under may have brought it on somewhat quicker. I say choosing in regards to my stress, due to the fact that I realise now, twenty+ years later, that we always have a choice in how we deal with the different issues in our lives. I had options, help was available, and I chose the road I took.

Over the years I have come to firmly believe in accountability, responsibility and choice. (I have always believed in choice, the rest came along with personal growth). I may or may not have been predisposed to having cancer, I may have been ignorant about what to do about it, at the time, and really the option was always there to learn. I always had a choice in how I was dealing with it. The only time I was a victim of cancer was when I was letting it take over my life, when I was choosing to sit back and feel sorry for myself, which isn’t always such a bad thing, it can even, at times, be considered inevitable even soothing. I just didn’t stay there

During my two-year stint with cancer, I bounced between taking charge of the situation and fully engulfing myself in the victim stance. It can be very self-satisfying to wallow in pity; it can actually feel righteously good, as well as serving a positive purpose. Sometimes there is the need for a little extra attention. Sometimes the ‘poor me’ stance is just the body’s way of justifying and activating the slowdown, relax and heal mode. Leaving our fast pace lifestyles can be next to impossible for some of us. The difference between an in charge person’s perception of and the victim’s, both of which might have a terminal disease, is that the in charge perception generally knows that they are always at choice in the treatment. I basically said ‘yes’, or ‘no’, to anything concerning my welfare. I actually conferred with the doctors as to how much to increase or decrease one of my drugs after, through personal experience, learning about the physiological signs of overdose. (Chapter 18, an education in experimental drugs).

I was also always at choice as to how I felt about the prospect of living or dying. Cancer became a challenge and death, well death, didn’t change for me at all, it was, and still is, an inevitability. My belief in the life and death cycle was so ingrained by the age of 16, when I was first diagnosed, I never even questioned my optimism. I was reminiscing recently with a good friend of mine, how after I was diagnosed, I popped by her school and asked her to go for a walk with me, where I casually informed her that I had cancer, like announcing I had some new form of the flu. Of course this didn’t go over as smoothly as I might have suspected. When she seemed upset I easily reassured her, with total conviction, not to worry, I wasn’t going to die from it. Later as I became more educated in the challenges I was to face, my conviction wavered to the point that maybe, and I mean a very small maybe, I might die. That wouldn’t be so bad for me, I’d be gone, I just felt sorry for those I would leave behind.

It was inevitable that I would have days when I felt consumed, when I didn’t think I was going to make it, where the overwhelming “poor me, life isn’t fair” took over. If those days lasted long enough to interfere with my well-being, I did something about it, anything that would work, that day. I had an arsenal of variations to spoil myself into a more optimistic mood, as flexible as necessary in my life style, in my treatments and in my thought processes. I sifted through all that I was learning, and I was learning. I took what I needed, what I came to agree with or believe in, and left the rest.

Cancer didn’t change who I was; it was a learning process, part of who I was to become. Feeling bad about where I was didn’t help with the quality of my life, in the moment, so it didn’t serve me. At the time, I just did, not quite understanding what I was doing. Now writing this novel, I am living life backwards and, with hindsight, I notice what it was that I did right and what factored against me. Somehow, fortunately, I stayed mostly on the right track. My family and I did whatever would work at the time to lift my spirits; the same can be said about my treatment. I guess you could say I was self-serving, and to a point, spoiled rotten during this juncture in my life. At the time it seemed necessary, to whatever extent possible, basically for my survival. To this day I balance my character around holding up my values, whatever is important to me and what is necessary for the benefit of my health. Twenty+ years ago, my main concern needed to be my health, now it a balance between my health, my family, our future and finances.

There was no point, after I was diagnosed with cancer, to feel I could have accelerated or in some form been responsible for it. That view would have served no positive purpose other than to deplete my energy. What was important was to go on from that point step by step, with the realisation that I was responsible for the healing journey. My perception at this point wasn’t ‘What did I do to get this?’ it was ‘What do I do now?’ ‘What do I want to do next?’ ‘How can this, (what ever I was up to at the time,) be looked at in a positive way? Congruently trusting whatever I chose to do’ I learned to have, instead of a cancer personality, a healing personality.