Features Jan 14, 2015 at 4:00 am

What Happened When Susan Sontag, My Mom, and I Were Diagnosed with Cancer, and How Treatment Becomes a Metaphor

My mom in 1958.


"Responsibility and its harsh twin, blame, are treatment for anxiety."

I've often thought exactly the same thing…blame (in terms of health) isn't so much offensive as it is a defensive maneuver. There is more tangible (perceived) control with your own health when you can point to a "choice" driven defect in someone else.

Beautifully written article. It walks the precarious arête of treatment options between objective, metric driven choices and magical thinking. It's hard to discount the latter, but when you have to pick, statistical significance likely trumps thoughtful anecdotes.
Beautiful, thoughtful writing.
Excellent, thought-provoking piece. More from this writer, please.
Irresponsible. "Self cured." Yep, very very rare (0.00001%). More likely benign enlarged lymph nodes but we'll never know since they were never biopsied.

Running away from treatment (for something that isn't even proven cancer) and then claiming self-cured?! Sure fired way to make more people delay treatment for what otherwise could be curable (truly curable) conditions. The number of times I've seen this - necrotic breast tumors eating away the chest wall treated by "organic" medicine etc etc, makes me sick.

Self-cure...or you actually didn't have lymphoma. If you never went back for more extensive tests and diagnosis, then how do you actually know it's lymphoma?
Plus, the radiation therapy wasn't likely the cause of the metastasis. Tumors actually suppress other tumors. Remove one and it gives the others a chance to grow which is why people are prescribed anti-angiogenics and immunomodulators aka chemotherapy.
Hey, really appreciate this. It's thoughtful and doesn't try to push a POV at you. Just talking. That's harder to do than it seems like it would, I think, but this author pulls it off.
I am reading a few of these comments. It's pretty funny that the commenters are rushing in to do what the author does an admirable job is not doing - rushing in with "you should" and "don't you know"... I think they're missing the point of the article.
Thank you for a beautiful piece. I had breast cancer 24 years ago, and just finished a year of tx for pancreatic cancer. I heard more crackpot ideas about breast cancer than I care to describe, but by far the worst was when a young woman told me that she believed that I got cancer because I have a problem with my sexuality. Seems to me that I wasn't the one with the problem... The idea of what is "treatment" intrigues me. After being told by numerous doctors that pancreatic cancer is "aggressive, difficult to treat, and has a high likelihood of recurrence," I dutifully went through the hell of treatment; I don't regret it. Now, I think of death every day, but not in a "negative" way, merely as a puzzling certainty. We all make our own choices, and decide for ourselves what we can live with (or not); I just hope that those around me will honor my choices. In spite of my professional training in the health field, I don't think there's a "reason" I got cancer; it just is. Genetics, environment, whatever; in the long run, it doesn't really matter. I haven't had any great epiphanies or spiritual awakenings, nor did I expect any. I do think a lot about a recurrence and what I would do. For me, it comes down to quality of life; I may or may not choose treatment again. As with all things in life, I will just see what happens, and take it from there. That's really all one can do.
Thank you. A thoughtful article that helped me re-visit feelings from when my mother and sister-in-law were using the Gerson treatment for their breast cancer. My sister was just diagnosed with 4th stage lung cancer. May she be spared the "shoulds" -- especially from me.
I'm a little confused, the column credits go to Conner Habib, but it looks like most of it was written by David Rieff (her son - who would be quite a bit older than Conner).
Beautifully written article. However, you were never really diagnosed. As for the self-cure, might it have been for dread, fear, and grief?

A possible explanation for the enlarged nodes is pulmonary sarcoidosis, which is NOT cancer. Sarcoidosis can go into remission on its own, without treatment. It can cause permanently enlarged nodes, and can also recurr. Why did the medical professionals not tell you this?

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