“Why should it happen to me?”

Throughout the blogs posted to date I have attempted to deal with widely-known and well documented patient (and carer) responses to a cancer diagnosis. One question which almost universally arises in the minds of cancer sufferers – both in the early days of illness and, not infrequently, throughout the entire course of illness and treatment – is, “Why me?” I have decided to raise it here (and in the manner in which I have) because not only is it almost invariably present to the thoughts of cancer sufferers and their loved ones; but it also provides an opportunity to lay due emphasis on some relevant and, hopefully, worthwhile strategies for coping.

When trouble strikes as often it does quite unexpectedly, the ensuing sense of bewilderment – not infrequently accompanied by feelings of anger and confusion – are likely to be met initially with the familiar cry “Why me? Here are two examples, each citing quite familiar but very different individual responses to it, made by patients who I yet vividly recall. The instances cited occurred at different times with first time attenders at my clinic, as together we reviewed their initial responses to a cancer diagnosis.

The first was a delightful but extremely frightened young mother of two early school age daughters – her two “treasures” as she so often later referred to them.  She said, “My first question when given the news was, “Why me?”   Pausing momentarily and struggling to keep her composure she continued, “I suppose in response to my incessant questioning, my consultant kind of hinted that my smoking may have been, as he put it, ‘a relevant factor’”. (Apparently she had smoked regularly from the age of 17, until shortly before the birth of her first child). She said, “I felt – and still do – responsible and guilty and it hurts so badly”.

I listened attentively as she tried to convey something of the dismay and, as she described it, “stunned disbelief” encountered in those first moments of awareness of her diagnosis and again, afterwards, when at home with her husband. As we talked together, our task was to establish a sound basis for whatever relationship was to exist and prosper between us. How crucial it was, therefore, to provide a comfortable and hopefully productive means of sharing and handling each fresh disclosure!

Toward the end of that first session, she somewhat acidly volunteered the view, “When you think about it, my surgeon’s response does, I suppose in part, answer my question, why?” doesn’t it”. Then softening her tone somewhat she added, in seeming after-thought, “Do you know, in a curious way it also helps, if only to see that whatever future I have, is to some degree also in my hands; you know…to prepare the girls for what lies ahead of them, even though we may not share as much of it as I would have liked.” For a moment neither of us spoke until, still holding back her tears she added, “But then, who knows!”

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