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Angelina Jolie’s Boobs, the Sequel

May 15, 2013

Scott brings up a good point, which is that’s quite nasty, and beneath me, to bring up some of the less than ideal aspects of Angelina Jolie’s personal life when discussing her medical choice.

He’s right. It is. That’s why I did it.

I brought it up not only because I couldn’t resist the cheap shot, but to shine a spotlight into that dark and nasty corner of our minds. We all do it, not all of us all the time, but we do it.

A good friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer about a year after I was. I remember her weeping in my arms, asking, “What did I do to deserve this? What sin have I committed? What wrong did I do?” I assured her that she hadn’t done anything, but I don’t think she believed me.

It’s human nature. The idea that terrible things can happen to us, for no reason at all, is so terrifying that we create all sorts of  structures and superstitions to create a false sense of causality around random events.

“Does it run in your family?” people always ask me. What they are really saying is, “How can I be sure that what happened to you won’t happen to me?” and the answer, which I put into words more often than I should is that it could happen, so do what you know to do and examine your breasts and get a regular mammogram.

Breast cancer is easier than other cancers because we’re blameless. It’s not like skin cancer, “Didn’t you wear sunscreen?” or lung cancer, “So, do you smoke,” or, worst of all, oral cancer from chewing tobacco.

I can’t get the thought of one kid out of my memory.

The only place in the hospital with no privacy is the pre-op room where all the beds are lined up  in a row, with curtains between them. They bring in patients like an assembly line. First, the consent paperwork team comes through. Then the chaplain comes to pray, then your medical team comes, and then the IV team comes through, and I don’t remember what comes next because with the IV comes the first round of anesthesia. I think they think that the anesthesia blocks your memory of the whole thing, which is why they don’t take more precautions to keep you from hearing all the details of other people’s medical cases.

Once — and I can’t remember which surgery — I was in the assembly line next to a 22-year-old guy who has having facial reconstruction after surgery for oral cancer. His doctor and consent team were explaining the procedure — they were going to take a couple of ribs to rebuild his lower jaw. I could hear the medical team clearly — and believe me, when someone is explaining something like that four feet away, your ears perk up, but I couldn’t  understand what the guy was saying, probably because, at the time, he was missing a lot of his lower jaw. It was mumbly, and I think he was supplementing with a note pad. I could tell he was crying, and then I heard a member of his team say, strongly, “No, don’t feel like that. This isn’t your fault. A lot of people use chewing tobacco. You didn’t do anything to deserve this. The important thing to think about is that you are going to be well again.” Then my IV team came and zonked me out. I was hoping to get a glimpse of the kid with half his face missing, because  I am morbid like that, but I never did. I hope he’s doing okay now. Most of all, I hope he’s gotten past the feeling that he somehow deserved it.

We can talk a lot about risk reduction and strategies for keeping ourselves safe, and a healthy lifestyle and making good choices, and all of those are good practices, but that doesn’t mean that bad stuff won’t happen. Sometimes there is a correlation between our actions and choices and the  stuff that can happen to us. Sometimes there isn’t.

Either way, I think it’s critical to separate making good choices from blaming people for bad ones, and above all, it’s critical to recognize that sometimes, there isn’t any correlation at all between things that are absolutely not connected.

We all want to find order and meaning in our lives. The idea that ill fortune can fall on us at any time is frightening. But looking for an explanation, any explanation, for why one person gets cancer and another person doesn’t is about as asinine as blaming beautiful, strong Angelina’s tough decision on the ill-fated and over-publicized circumstances of her romance.

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One Comment
  1. Lorraine permalink

    Wise words, Ms. ER. Stuff happens. We also all make bad decisions from time to time. When I think of some of the incredibly stupid things I did, especially when young, I think I’m lucky to have made it out alive. And yes, it is about trying to fool ourselves that bad things won’t happen to us.

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