Terminal Terminology: Redefining CANCER

A recent news story about redefining cancer raises the issue of how powerful something becomes depending on what we call it.  In this case, I call it “terminal terminology.”  Cancer diagnosis and treatment is literally a growth industry.  About half of us will get a cancer diagnosis during our lifetime.  A cancer diagnosis raises the fear of death. Unfortunately, with increasingly detailed diagnostic technologies, many of the “cell abnormalities” detected have little, if any, clinical significance — except that it leads to patient stress and overtreatment, a major threat to well-being.

As CBS news reports it:

There has been a “dramatic increase in certain kinds of cancer like thyroid cancer [and] melanoma,” Dr. Agus said on “CBS This Morning,” “Almost a 200 percent increase over the last 35 years.”

The increase is due in part with new technology that is “allowing us diagnose many more cancers,” he explained. “The problem is many of these cancers are not ever going to cause a problem.”

“It’s like if you told a firefighter, ‘Go put out every fire, they’d be blowing water on tiki torches and candles when they don’t need to. It’s the same thing [with cancer]. Many of these cancers are so slow-growing, we need to redefine them.”

The risk of aggressive treatment of slow-growing cancers include unnecessarily undergoing “radical therapy” including surgery and radiation, treatments that could cause “lots of side effects when it’s not needed,” according to Agus.

“Lots of cancers…we don’t need to treat,” he said, citing certain types of thyroid and breast cancers among them, “The key is to treat the cancers we need to treat, so we need a new definition.”

Agus advises doctors to educate their patients about the range of treatment options available, so that patients fully understand potential side effects and ramifications and can weigh them against the risks of living with a slow-growing cancer.

Hopefully, reasonable clinical care will win the day over easy profits and hyperbolic reactions.  Of course, rationality often escapes the human experience.  Technically, the term for unexplained irrationality in the medical care system is “idiopathic idiopathy.”

POEM: Own Worst Enemy

One day I realized that I am my own worst enemy
And as it turns out, I am a formidable foe

Self-awareness seems to key to one’s own progress.  This short poem offers a backhanded compliment to oneself as a formidable foe, a worthy opponent.  To be true to oneself, one has to know thyself.  Self-awareness and self-knowledge are essential to overcoming self-defeating patterns that limit one’s progress.  May you continue to discover yourself and find a great friend!

Direction Headed

If Do Not Change Direction End Up Where Headed–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

If Do Not Change Direction End Up Where Headed--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

If Do Not Change Direction End Up Where Headed–PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

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View more Peace Quote Buttons.

This is a great Chinese proverb.  Its simplicity and inescapable logic is a powerful way to break us out of inertial thinking.  Western civilization and its fixation on rationality (which ironically brings about irrational consequences), walks right into the inescapable logic of this proverb.  One of the many dangers in life is being desensitized to the negative aspects of the status quo.  Since we tend to rationalize whatever situation or behavior we are experiencing, and, in this respect, reality has a conservative bent, meaning a tendency or a bias towards maintaining what is already in existence and resisting a different course than wherever we happen to be headed.  I’m amazed at the powerful force that cognitive dissonance plays in the human psyche.  As a former health educator and having some training in human behavior, I was surprised to learn that the seemingly obvious assertion that behavior follows knowledge is actually largely backwards.  While knowledge may very well be a necessary component of a particular behavior, it is typically far from sufficient.  More typically, we engage in a behavior and then do what is necessary to align our thinking, attitudes and feelings with that behavior.  This makes sense if you reflect on the relative difficulty of changing behavior versus thinking.  It is usually easier to rationalize than actually make a behavioral change from whatever present course we are on.  So, cognitive dissonance serves as a psychic energy-saving mechanism by aligning a less difficult process in the face of a more difficult behavior or situation.  Of course, the way we think feeds back into our behavior.  Nonetheless, there is some mystical reality to acting on faith, when and where one may sense that a particular behavior may be better than a current one, but one can’t muster the psychic resources to first change one’s larger set of thoughts, attitudes and feelings, before giving the change in behavior a try.   I have heard counselors and therapists marvel at clients who struggled with many issues related to their thinking, attitudes and feelings, and found help on this front to be unhelpful, until taking the advice of “fake it till you make it;” then, found that when they changed their behavior everything else just “magically” fell into place (and, of course, the helper often received little credit for what seemed like stupid advice at the beginning).  Back to the concept of inertia, I’m reminded of the saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Both of these sayings or proverbs imply that the past present and future are connected – duh!  While this may seem oddly oversimplified, it may just remind the reader that we can change the future by changing the present, just as we can assure more of the same by not changing our present course.  If you want something different, try something different.

One last reflection on thinking and behavior change.  Trying to figure out which comes first, thinking or behavior change, is sort of like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg.  For example, what needs to change for someone to actually take the advice of “fake it till you make it?” — a hurdle that may reap a quantum leap of change.   Of course, this can very well involve thoughts and attitudes.  So, maybe you shouldn’t try any of this behavior change mumbo jumbo (that’s reverse psychology by the way…)