This selection is available to active subscribers only.
Already a subscriber? Sign in.
I appreciate the gift of THE SUN. It always has fine things in it. The recent issues regarding cancer, though, have bothered me with many unanswered questions. Dr. Irving Oyle describes the world, and by inclusion cancer, as “crystallized thought.” Peg Staley searches within herself for the causes and cure of breast cancer. Patricia Sun believes that all our illness is psychosomatic. These ideas are exciting: they explain the world to me the way I would like it to be.
But (she said), but . . . how do we “explain” the suffering of children?
I once worked in a hospital, in a non-medical capacity. One whole floor was occupied by children in the terminal stages of leukemia and bone cancer. Some needed continuous transfusions, could literally drown in their own blood; they lay in beds designed like cradles, to ease some of the pain with a rocking motion. Treatments and cures have improved each decade, especially with children’s leukemia. But children still die of cancer; many survive, but suffer a great deal.
I can’t help but feel that psychosomatic explanations are cruelly self-serving, even grotesque, when applied to the cancers of children. Can an infant mind “project cancer” onto itself? Does a toddler have leukemia because he “repressed” strong desires or angers? Does a seven-year-old girl have bone cancer because she has failed to “experience” herself fully? Failed to do all the things she has wanted to do?
People talk of a “cancer type.” John Wayne usually symbolizes such a type: the macho personality, repressing feelings, trying to dominate the affective and natural environments, manipulating life as a linear race between winners and losers. Well and good. A lot of us would like to see this type “punished” by proving that a life lived in this way is prone to cancer.
The fact is that John Wayne lived a good long life. The Richard Nixons, the General Haigs, the presidents of Exxon and GM do not seem to be dying of cancer: they all seem quite fit! While infants and children are dying of cancer: do you know any infant who is a “cancer type”?
Other current psychosomatic approaches to cancer seem to come close to “blaming the victim.” This reminds me of the nineteenth century “explanation” of poverty: those in power officially declared that God was on the side of the rich and successful, and that therefore those suffering poverty, imprisonment, degradation must be out of favor with the Almighty.
It is a palpable fact that suffering and death can and do come to the innocent, to children; while really mean, insensitive and criminally exploitive people can and do prosper. And die of old age.
So when we “explain” cancer as a mental projection, I wonder: does the American middle class mind desire to protect itself from the stresses of injustice, and the unknown, and from the suffering of the innocent, by explaining away some of this world’s agonies as Mind Trips Only?
I don’t mean to be hostile or antagonistic about this. But I think there are many factors working in cancer, and though the human mind might be one of them, it might not be the sole or major factor. And even though we work to project constructive pictures with our minds, such pictures might not be strong enough to counteract the massive stresses of environmental pollution, artificial foods, and other biochemical carcinogens, which are, down to their very quarks, as real as we are.
P.S. Maybe I should add that I have survived a very nasty form of cancer, melanoma. (From too much Sun!) So I could flatter myself that I healed myself, prevented its spread, by means of my creative and tuned-in mind. Perhaps. But when I think of small lovely children dying of cancer, such an explanation does not flatter me. It makes me ashamed.