The C-Word Maybe Should be “Could”

Are Doctors Too Nonchalant about Pronouncing a Dreaded Diagnosis?

Eileen Pollack
Human Parts

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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

When I was growing up, the word “cancer” was rarely uttered, as if naming the disease would cause the Dark Lord to turn his paralyzing visage in your direction and send one of his Death Eaters to strike you with a tumor. Your doctor might even advise your family not to upset you by revealing you had only a few weeks to live.

Yet the pendulum seems to have swung too far in the opposite direction. Doctors blithely have informed me that I’ve had cancer six times. Lucky for me, five of those six times they’ve been wrong.

The first time, I was in my forties and the oncologist who read my mammogram told me she was so certain the calcifications in my left breast were malignant that instead of performing the usual biopsy, she would go ahead and remove the lump. The women in my family aren’t prone to breast cancer, and the oncologist assured me that we’d caught the tumor before it spread. But naturally I was relieved when the pathology report came back negative. Nor was I so vain as to be upset about the divot beside my left nipple; any man who found that dent to be a reason to break up with me was not anyone I should have been dating in the first place.

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Eileen Pollack
Human Parts

Eileen is the author, most recently, of Maybe It's Me: On Being the Wrong Kind of Woman