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The Importance of Knowing

A friend posted a news story on Facebook a couple of months ago and asked for everyone to share it. Since she has more than 4,500 friends on Facebook, presumably many others besides me saw it, too.

It was a CNN piece about how cancer can be cured without chemotherapy or radiation. Diet and exercise, the piece said, are actually the key to preventing and ridding the body of the dreadful, often-terminal disease, but pharmaceutical companies don’t want you to know about it so they can continue making untold millions from their drug cocktails.

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Upon further inspection, the post (which has since been removed) wasn’t actually a CNN-vetted story. Rather, it was to a CNN iReport, which is a part of their site that “accepts video, photos and audio from a computer or cell phone. A compilation of news items submitted by citizen journalism.” By CNN’s own admission, iReports are “not edited, fact-checked or screened before they post.” In May, there was a CNN iReport titled “Giant Asteroid Possibly on Collision Course With Earth,” which has also been removed. Hopefully if you’re reading this, the asteroid did not, in fact, come to pass.

CNN iReports translate into the fact that any yahoo with a keyboard and dial-up connection can post on a (quasi-) reputable news site. Which, of course, is awful. I would have thought my friend who posted the link was bright enough to know better, but on the other hand, it doesn’t surprise me that there are people who so want believe that there is an easy way out of even the most complex situations.

The fact is that if a giant asteroid collides with Earth, even the real CNN won’t report on it — because we won’t survive (and even if we do, chances are CNN won’t be able to find the asteroid, although you can bet they’ll spend a lot of time speculating on its whereabouts). And like dodging an asteroid, there’s hardly ever an easy solution to cancer, although the best hope is often getting to a doctor for early detection.

A couple of months ago, a darling group of sixth graders visited me at home armed with homemade granola and hand-sewn fleece blankets and asked me questions about cancer, including how I got it. I admitted that I didn’t know, that there’s a chance it was in my genes since a few family members had breast cancer. But it also could have been from my diet or other lifestyle choices. If I got breast cancer because of my own doing, there’s nothing I can do about it now so I try not to spend too much time thinking about it.

It’s not fair to avoid going to the doctor because you don’t want to know. When we fight for our lives, we’re also fighting on behalf of the people who love and care for us.

I hated sounding like such an adult when I told the kids how important it is to eat right, exercise and never smoke cigarettes. If you think you can put off good habits until later, I told them, just know that later is when all the bad stuff usually catches up with you. And go to the doctor, I said. They might not tell you what you want to hear, but it’s better to hear it when you can still do something about it. Who wouldn’t want an advantage when stepping into the ring to do battle?

When I look back on everything that’s unfolded since I was diagnosed with breast cancer on January 6, one of the most painful parts was the judgment heaped on me by too many people for the choices I was making on my path to a cure. Judge not lest ye be judged. Except for most of them, they just couldn’t help it.

I actually get that some of them couldn’t help but judge, because sometimes, neither can I. When word spread of my diagnosis, in addition to everyone and their mother who came at me with their opinion and advice, out of the woodwork also came too many women who admitted to me that they’d never had a mammogram. They didn’t want to know if there was something bad to know. I understand wanting to avoid the dread of bad news, although I also get how much worse it can be if you wait to hear it. Because ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. And while there well might be a pharmaceutical conspiracy, an easy way out of cancer isn’t one of them.

At the 2014 ESPY Awards, ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who’s been battling a rare form of cancer for seven years, explained the rationale behind his admirable fight: his two daughters.

“I’m working hard for this,” he said. “Our life’s journey is about the people who touch us.”

The thing is that it works both ways — we touch other people, too. That’s why it’s not fair to avoid going to the doctor because you don’t want to know. When we fight for our lives, which might sometimes mean simply going in for a routine checkup, we’re also fighting on behalf of the people who love and care for us so we don’t have to risk putting them through the agony of leaving them sooner than necessary.

Scott pointed out that he’s been fortunate not to be alone in his crusade since there have been times when he’s been too tired, sick or weak to fight.

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“But the doctors and nurses could. The people that I love, my friends and family, they could fight ... [cancer] is not a solo venture. It requires support.”

Support, though, does not come from sharing CNN iReports offering false hope and oversimplified solutions. When we have people who love and care for us, our lives are much bigger than our own. That means it’s our responsibility to acknowledge that ignorance isn’t bliss — it’s just ignorant.

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