The sudden news of Senator John McCain’s brain cancer seemed to turn Washington D.C. on its head. Senators being interviewed seemed stunned, overwhelmed, overcome with emotion. It was quite the melodrama for that news cycle.
Why is it that a cancer diagnosis is always so shocking? If we hear of someone having a heart attack or being diagnosed with some other disease, such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis, there are the customary concerned reactions and sad statements. People accept other such unfortunate news in subdued tones. But a cancer diagnosis always seems to shake people to their core.
I have some experience with cancer through my late husband, who died of it four days before he turned 55, and I think I know what causes the shocked reactions. It is, in a word--fear.
Because we are all human and vulnerable to this wanton killer, we fear cancer. We’re afraid of cancer because it is so capricious; it strikes at any age, even in infancy. Cancer is relentless; once it gets hold of you, even if you survive you live forever in its grip, wondering if it will return. Cancer treatments are grueling and debilitating, and you’re never sure they were sufficiently effective. And cancer is ubiquitous; it appears to be everywhere in the world, in every part of the human body, to be discovered at any given moment.
Besides my husband, I’ve lost several friends and two bosses to cancer. I worked with a man whose nine-month old son died of cancer. At the present time I am close to three people battling this scourge of humanity, in various forms and at different stages. One victim is 70 years old; the second is 56, and the third is 43. One is a man, two are women. They all have very different cancers that vary in severity, progression, and prognosis. Yet all will undergo the same mental and physical suffering, and all of their loved ones will endure the same emotional agony.
There is a time to be born and a time to die. We all know that no one gets out of life alive. But with cancer, we never know how long or torturous the road to our final destination might be. I believe that the shock of cancer is simply the fear of the unknown.