Guest Column

Cancer by Chance

What has chance to do with cancer? Apparently, quite a lot if one is to believe a recent article written by two scientists in the journal ‘Science’.

According to them, random mutations account for almost two-thirds of the risk of getting many cancers. Till now we were told something quite different: that it was hereditary, life style and environmental factors that had more to do with getting cancer than anything else.

Where does this leave us as people who have had cancer? In a more comforting place I would think. After all these years of blaming ourselves and feeling guilty that we may have caused our disease we can at last breathe easy. I wonder what this will do to an entire industry that has built itself on making the person with cancer look and feel bad?

I still remember my lowest point when I was under treatment for cancer. Someone gave me a book called “Getting Well Again” by the Simontons’. Reading it I realised that the logic that informed the book was that since I had caused the cancer in the first place I could now reverse it. While this may have been intended to give me a sense of control over cancer it had exactly the opposite effect. Never had I felt more helpless, isolated and outraged. The thought that because of a personality flaw and due to a death wish I could have given cancer to myself was unacceptable. Among other things, I now had to contend with the possibility that I deserved my cancer as I was unable to deal with emotional distress. A classic case of blaming the victim.

The find that many cancers occur randomly during stem cell division is a huge load off our shoulders. We can now concentrate on asking questions other than, “Why did I get this cancer?” Obviously, except perhaps for certain cancers that can be attributed to regular tobacco use, an identifiable gene or prolonged exposure to a known carcinogen, there is no clear answer. I also need no longer blame my bad karma or my parents. The answer lies less in my biography than it does in my biology. What a huge relief!

For a friend of mine who has steadily refused to accept the argument that cancers are caused by faulty diets this is a great vindication. In her words, “There is no one who has eaten more grass (raw vegetables and fruits) than I have”. This is not to say however that we can now go out and throw all caution to the winds. As the good scientists remind us, eating right, exercising, not smoking and diet control are still factors that influence cancer even though they may not be as important as previously believed. This is surely another cause for celebration as we no longer have to deprive ourselves of foods we love and enjoy. It will also lead to less friction within families as those under treatment can now justifiably refuse inedible concoctions made from special mushrooms, herbs and sea-weeds.

So folks should we leave it all to chance? I reckon it would be wise to take reasonable precautions and to be vigilant. A bit like driving a car on Delhi’s killer roads. You don’t want to be in one in which the brake fluid is leaking. That  timely visit for servicing is important.

Harmala Gupta
Founder-President, CanSupport

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