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Why Not Us?

Why Not Us?

I think there is a time in every physician's life, when they challenge the nature of illness. Not specifically the cause of illness, but why it has to exist at all in our world. As I evaluate and treat patients who seemingly have lost hope of ever recovering from some significant health disturbance in their life, I am constantly reminded that illness is a necessary evil that lurks in the shadows of our lives.

One thing is certain, I do not believe an illness befalls someone because it is the will of God. I am not sure who or what power God has, but I am sure that Divine Power is above and beyond life and death, illness and health. My wife Lisa died of breast cancer in 2009. She told me that when she was in California, living with her three entitled children and abusive husband, she prayed to God to take her life when her youngest daughter graduated from high school. She had enough of the emptiness that comes with an unfulfilled life. She could not see anything changing and was not able to look beyond the illusions of her husband's control that created her despair. We reconnected after twenty-six years and later married when her divorce was final. After four months of marriage, we found her cancer nestled within her bone marrow, keeping her from making blood. She would often say, "I have no one to blame for my cancer but me. I asked God to take my life for years. And he answered my prayers. It's all my fault." I do not think that God answered her prayers because she contracted cancer, God found a way to get her to me so she could experience unconditional love before she died. Her illness was a mystery, but my love for her and her's for me was not.

People are not punished for doing evil things by getting ill or developing a sickness that eventually kills them because they were bad. Punishment is a human arrangement that is assigned when someone breaks societal rules and/or crimes against the State. Illness is not related to ungodliness. It is a mysterious force, one that can emerge seemingly out of nowhere and can devastate an entire family if the person becoming ill is a pillar of their immediate or extended familial community.

Over the years, I have seen many illnesses manifest themselves in an entirely innocent population. Most, but not all of those patients contracting illness have no idea why or how they became ill. I'm not concerned about the minor coughs and colds or gastrointestinal upsets from time to time, I am referring to the devastating illnesses that lead to therapies that can and often do have damaging side effects. Remember the phrase, the treatment is worse than the disease. Many times the treatment is as bad as the disease, but the side effects from the medications are different than the symptoms from the illness. On first blush, it just appears that we exchange one set of symptoms for another. It just so happens that the side effects are a bit better tolerated.

There is no question that our society is experiencing more stress than ever before. Every day I hear patients complain of predatory stress, episodic unrelenting psychosocial traumas, bullying, emotional and physical abuse both in the home and at the workplace, spousal abuse and misery. Misery has taken root in a sub-segment of our community, and no matter what happens in the lives of the miserable, they always see the world as a dark place filled with nothing but anxiety producing tension that leads to constant fear. How does fear and anxiety play into disease? I suspect both are key confounding variables that profoundly impact our lives to the negative.

When a child is diagnosed with an incurable disease, whether it is fatal or not, it deeply impacts their entire family. Childhood illness can destroy a family's dynamics and lead to many disturbing consequences between the mother and father and in the function of the family unit as a whole. Resources shift, hope which is a weapon of fear, replaces joy and everyone becomes a victim of the illness to one extent or another. Other children in the family get left behind and are often rearing themselves because their parents are too busy taking care of their sick sibling. Resentment is seeded in everyone's mind since the dream of a happy, healthy family is destroyed and replaced with a reality of illness and all of its disappointments. I have heard patients say, "I am Jennifer's mom" instead of reciting their name and revealing their authentic self. Their true self got buried under the wreckage of their ill child many years ago. They accept the caretaker mask and seldom if ever, take it off. Guilt spews from the pores of their skin as they navigate their harsh reality related to helping their ill child survive. Why does it have to be this way?

Another interesting dimension of illness is that it seems to drive patients to a contemplative almost existential consciousness. The theme of fate and destiny recur over and over again. Some patients have the notion that their process of creating the illness (fate) is occurring because they have a destiny (their final position in life) related to their illness. It seems absurd to me to believe that a patient's pre-morbid behavior, good or bad, is their fate. And the illness' final stages is their destiny. I don't believe in fate. We seldom create our path through the forest of humanity, we most often wonder through the woods, looking for the trail that lies between the trees and thorn bushes. Every so often, we get stuck. Eventually we see the path and get back on the trail. When we arrive at a spot, a place we feel most content and our soul aches no more, we are home. It may be a temporary home or a permanent one. Wherever that place is, it speaks to our true authentic self. Illness is not a destiny, and no one is fated to be sick. I evaluate patient’s everyday that have no risk factors for being ill and many of them have an illness that has yet to be characterized in standard medical textbooks. I encourage all of them to live their lives to the fullest possible. They were not meant to be ill, it just happened.

One last thought. The idea that genetic testing or looking at someone's DNA on a random basis will reveal their risk of disease and give them or their physician legitimate insights into their future personal health is poppycock. The penetration of illness as it relates to genetic material (DNA Mutation) is vastly overrated. It is the environment in which we live in that determines the manifestation of the DNA, it is not that the DNA creates the environment in which we live. Epigenetics are far more important and helpful than genetics. You can have your mouth swabbed to evaluate your ancestral links but trying to find out if you are going to manifest cancer or heart disease is a waste of money and time. Genetic testing is the false prophet of disease and will always be.

I often wonder about why people become sick. All life forms on our planet suffer from some kind of illness or another. Every living thing on our planet from single cell organisms to trees succumb to sickness and ill health. Why not us? 


Posted by Amanda Sanders at 12:09 PM
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