Order in the Cancer Court

Cancer patients usually say they want a cure. Well, of course, that goes without saying. But it’s also kind of annoying.

We’ve all, as children and adults, had those “What if” conversations. What if you could have anything you wanted in the whole world? Depending on the respondents’ ages, people might say anything from  “a banana cream pie” to “a trip to Brugge.”

But inevitably some killjoy says something like “world peace” or “affordable public parking,” in a voice that manages to convey both noble martyrdom as well as a finger wagging rebuke: “Shame on You for Being So Materialistic.”

Don’t get me wrong. A cure is nothing to sneeze at. But what I really want is justice. I don’t mean the Gideon’s Trumpet-public-defenders-for-everyone justice. I mean the Jerry Orbach kind. Hey Dick Wolf, where is “Law & Order: Special Genome Unit” ?

Cancer is a crime. Don’t you feel robbed? Assaulted? Derailed on your pursuit of happiness? Well, who is responsible for this crime? Who did this to you? They must be punished! Justice must be served!

Most people, upon being diagnosed, cordon off their memories with yellow tape and start spraying mental Luminol everywhere. They sift through the evidence and pounce on any clue: “So, THAT’s what caused my cancer! It was Colonel Mustard in the library with the carcinogenic lead pipe! I knew it!

If only Jessica Fletcher worked in cancer research. “If you lived in Cabot Cove from 1984-1996, there was a pretty good chance that someone was going to murder your ass,” this writer observes. “With a body count of up to eight per episode, Cabot Cove experienced an outbreak of no less than 800 murders during the time that Jessica Fletcher lived there.”

And yet every single murder was SOLVED! No cold cases on Angela Lansbury’s watch.
The majority of cancer patients can’t trace their disease to one specific cause. Like “Murder on the Orient Express” it’s a complex crime and chances are excellent the criminal didn’t act alone.
Beyond cancer justice, I want cancer exoneration. People tell you all the time, “It’s not your fault you got sick.” But then they want you to reform yourself into an Augustinian-like ascetic. Goodbye house parties at the  University of Carthage, hello David Servan-Schreiber State. As someone with metastatic disease, I think the hope is that we’ll get time off for good behavior.
A Tumor Board is the closest thing a cancer patient gets to a trial. A Tumor Board is like the Justice League of Oncology.  Only instead of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and The Green Lantern you get a bunch of medical, surgical and radiation oncologists.
It’s a closed meeting–cancer patients generally aren’t invited to provide testimony or point out the accused. (“Ma’am, do you see the cells accused of breaking and entering your lymph system and attacking your vertebral bodies? “Yes, I do. There they are! Right on that slide!”)
Last year my surgeon presented my case to the Tumor Board. I envisioned Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” with doctors at tables on either side of a large courtroom, each passionately arguing for some treatment plan.
Suddenly Paul Drake would burst through the courtroom door and hand my surgeon a note. “Ladies and gentlemen, some startling new evidence has just come to light that will prove beyond my case beyond a reasonable doubt,” my surgeon would say, glaring at all present.  “Katherine O’Brien did NOT cause her cancer!”
The defense rests.
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11 thoughts on “Order in the Cancer Court

  1. Stacey says:

    Katherine, I’m applauding you. You managed to make me smile while remembering all the ways I think I caused my cancer. Just last night, I heard sugar is the culprit, ice-cream, any meat eaten anywhere, so sure it’s my fault. Thanks for this. It’s nice to think maybe I didn’t have anything to do with it, even if that only lasts a short time.

  2. katherinembc says:

    Hi Stacey! I remember one of the boards had a thread called “Let’s Take Our Own Survey” in which participants were invited to present their own (tongue-in-cheek) theories on why they got cancer. My favorite was “Aqua Net hair spray and secondhand smoke from my mom”.
    Thanks for reading (and commenting)!

  3. Anna says:

    I think mine was caused by attending all those cancer fundraisers. You know the one’s where they encourage you to “Drink For the Cure”. 😉 P.S. Did you see the article link I posted on your “Hangovers” blog?

  4. Kathi says:

    Right on, Katherine! And LOL, Anna!!

    Here’s my blog’s resounding agreement with your post: Cancer Happens


  5. Katie says:

    Katherine – I think you are fabulous. 🙂

  6. katherinembc says:

    Katie–I think I am fabulous, too! Just kidding. Thanks for reading and responding.

  7. Kathi says:

    Katherine, I just realized that you responded to my Cancer Happens post way back when with a link to this post! LOL. Great minds… just reposted both posts, yours and mine, to get some Pollyannas off my back.

  8. knitkim says:

    I too agree with “Hey the cancer is not my fault” However why do I feel the constant pressure of everything I put into my body as the prosecution or the defense. I think we need a “victim awareness” hot line where warriors can go and say all the morbidly ghastly joke that want just to make fun of the nemesis that never goes away….

  9. Dorry says:

    thank you.
    all my best to you.

  10. I liked this. It was funny and entertaining and I noticed that, the fact that you are ill wasn’t your focus. I am three weeks into my DX and I am still numb or in shock. I have stage IIA breast cancer. I am reading all the experiences I can find. I am so sacred. Thank you for writing this. I Was able to step back for a moment and realize I need to look for the humor. I need to lighten up. Thanks again for writing this.

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