Thursday, October 27, 2011

One in a million? So why me?

The GP I saw last week (concerning my 'flu and chest infection) wasn't my usual one, so I had the same conversation I have with every medical professional who has read my history for the first time. First they don't believe that I'm not (or wasn't) a smoker and then they tell me how unusual I am. I've been meaning to ask someone who might have a clue just how unusual (statistically) this actually is. Am I one in a million? Or even less common than that? My Australian oncologist (who was the most senior figure in the department of a large hospital) said he'd never seen or heard of any analogous cases. The GP last week said that even if I had been a "champion smoker" since being a teenager I would have been desperately unlucky to have ended up with my cancer at that age.

This raised for me an issue that I deliberately put aside early on, namely, the cause of my cancer. If I am really so rare, am a just a total fluke or were there certain triggers in my genes and/or and environment that are to blame? My decision early on to avoid attempting to answer the scientific question of causation was based on asking a few of the top experts and finding they had no clue whatsoever, especially given my lifelong failure to consume even a single tobacco product (except second-hand, of course, which comes free of charge, though perhaps not of consequence). So I figured that if the experts had nothing to suggest, then my own search would likely prove either fruitless or a source of paranoia (rather than finding one cause, I would be likely to find hundreds of potential culprits, namely the carcinogens scattered throughout modern life that are almost impossible to avoid). I simply said to myself, "I am a man of cancer and I live amongst a people of carcinogenic lifestyles".

Theologically, based on the books of Job and Ecclesiastes and also John 9, I affirmed that the consequences of particular sins do not always fall on the wrongdoers, but that there is a tragic element to the world's brokenness in which suffering is unevenly and unjustly distributed. Not that any are innocent of wrongdoing, but many who suffer are innocent of the wrongdoing that caused or contributed to that particular suffering. Thus, asking "why me?" is often not a very productive question.

There is of course far more to say about this, but the comments from my GP briefly opened these questions and let me think again about why I had put them down again.


Anonymous said...

I too have struggled with the question of "What?" and "Why?" My own specialist told me that it is common that they don't know the cause of why sickness and disease happens. Only that it does.

I was laid low with the flu last week. It required a trip to hospital, a drip, blood tests, another lumbar puncture and fears of a return to where I was four years ago.

And the fears of being abandoned by God returned once again, threatening to overwhelm me...only for the words of a recent sermon I preached on Psalm 22 reverberating in my inner man...about how God didn't avert his eyes or ears from Christ on the cross... and how through him, God also will never abandon or forsake us.

There is much value in reflecting on past reflection.

byron smith said...

Sorry to hear about your 'flu. Hope you're feeling better now. Lumbar punctures really are not fun. I'm glad that the lessons learned through teaching others were of benefit to you as well.