Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why Me? Conundrum

I hope this never happens, but in some form or another it probably will at least once in your lifetime. What I’m speaking about is the chances that you or a close loved one is on the receiving end of bad medical news. For instance, a cancer diagnosis.

I wanted to talk today about this because I see so many of my patients and their families struggle through these difficult times, often making it worse; adding insult to injury.

Often I see patients and/or their family fall into what I like to call the “Why Me” trap. It goes something like this:

Consider for example, a 45 year old mother of 3 being diagnosed with breast cancer. After the initial shock wears off and some of the preliminary testing is done it’s not unusual for patients to dwell on the situation. And often times, obsess. They begin, in earnest, asking Why Me? I lived a good clean life why did I get cancer? What about so and so that drinks, smokes or is a mean person? I have kids that depend on me, why me? I go to church regularly, why me? No one in my family got cancer, why me?

Families do the same thing. How can my son/daughter have cancer? It’s not fair? I wish I could trade places with him/her. How could my sister or brother have cancer? How could my mom/dad have cancer? Why? They’re good people. They didn’t do anything wrong. And on and on.

Some go so far as to curse religion and God. I had a patient that swore off church 25 years prior after his daughter was born mentally challenged. He wallowed in Why Me land. He liked to joke that the only church he would attend from now on was St. Mattress with Sr. Sheet and Fr. Pillow.

It is frustrating as a doctor to watch the patients and their families literally torture themselves. I know it’s perfectly natural to ask these questions but it needs to be controlled. Go ahead, ask these questions, get it out of your system but only for a short while then move on.

The bottom line is that the endless conundrum of Why Me serves no useful purpose. Literally, no good will come of it unless there’s closure. If you ask it for a short while and conclude correctly, there really is no answer then it was cathartic, good. But, if like so many, you continue to beat yourself up over it all you really do is end up ruining what precious time you have.

Think about that. You or your loved one has just been faced with major mortality issues; they’re staring at the real possibility of a life that may be much shorter/differerent than they had planned. And what do they do? They waist time worrying about why it happened. Asking questions that can’t be answered. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pursue therapy; or ask if there are ways to improve things, prevent things in the future. I’m talking about the endless barrage of unanswerable questions I outlined earlier.

Acceptance, that’s what is needed. The truth is that cancer and disease don’t discriminate. They’re the result of a complex interplay of genetics and environment. The sooner you accept that fact, the sooner you can move on.

Therefore, in conclusion, my advice is to punch up the famous country music song, “Live Like You Were Dying” on your ipod and blow out the speakers.

Do like he says: live each and every minute to the fullest; give thanks for every beautiful day.

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