What really causes cancer? Is it lifestyle and genes? Is it just a random unexplainable thing? Do my thoughts have something to do with it? Why did I get ill?
These questions plague people living with cancer, and they plague them sometimes, even after they survive. In my doctoral research with cancer survivors, the large majority of participants shared that they had often wondered “why” they got cancer. Many had come up with different theories to try to understand WHY they could have possibly gotten cancer. These theories ranged from toxins in the food they ate, surgeries they had, the water pitcher they drank from, bad genes, God picked me, pesticide and herbicide exposure (which actually has been linked to lymphoma), to a loss of meaning and depression in their life prior to diagnosis
Theorizing and questioning is extremely normal. Although many people, even clinicians, tend to be uncomfortable with the why question, it is completely NORMAL. Other researchers have found that asking and wondering why often served individuals in their coping with cancer (See Shelley Taylor’s research out of UCLA on coping/breast cancer). These researchers explained that this questioning seemed to be an adaptive step in the process of finding meaning for their experience.
It is however useful to discuss these uncomfortable questions and existential questions with a therapist, trusted friend or counselor. Often, people facing a life threatening illness like cancer feel very alone and sometimes find it difficult to share what they are really thinking and feeling with others. At other times, people report feeling very understood by their friends and family and may not choose to get additional support. If however, you are feeling alienated, reach out- spill your beans and boost your immune system in the process. Don’t do it alone. From one survivor to another, you are not alone.
Love and Light,