Breast cancer: why me?
After taking the news, the question that inevitably comes up is “Why?” Today, almost every woman asks me this question at every consultation – which was not the case when I started this profession thirty years ago.
This question comes first almost everytime. There is no answer, except in the exceptional cases of genetic cancers linked to a mutation of a gene that predisposes to breast cancer. These mutations affect 1% of the population, and 7% of women with breast cancer. They are therefore rare. For the remaining 93%, the cause of the cancer is unknown. Certainly, there are leads, but they explain only a small part of the phenomenon.
Exciting studies show that more than 30% of breast cancers are preventable because they are essentially linked to bad lifestyle habits. In the first place: alcohol, tobacco, excess weight and sedentary lifestyle. The question “Why?” can be answered in 7% of cases (genetic forms of breast cancer), but not in 93% of cases.
Of these 93%, 30% are thought to be preventable. This does not mean that women who do not smoke, do not drink alcohol, are not overweight and exercise regularly will not get breast cancer. But if you pay attention to your lifestyle, you reduce your risk of breast cancer.
In the vast majority of breast cancers, therefore, we do not have an answer to the question “Why?”. We do not know the causes of leukemia either. Nor do we know what causes childhood cancer, or ovarian or uterine cancer. But strangely, the question “why” is much more present when it comes to breast cancer. As if the breast crystallized the search for the cause, surely because of its particular symbolism.
Aging and breast cancer
The older I get, the more I think that breast cancer is an life accident from which we often come out rather well, and which should not be included in the list of unexpected and unfair punishments. I am not a philosopher, but in the end, don’t we have to live with the idea that we can get cancer as well as with the idea that we are mortal? Of course, we will do everything to avoid it – or, in the case of death, to delay it as long as possible – but shouldn’t we live with the idea that it is a possibility of life? I will try to do everything in my power to avoid it, without making any radical decision, but I keep in mind that it can happen to me. Then, the day it really happens to me, the impact will be much less terrifying. If I also know that it is not my fault, the impact will be, again, less destructive.
Don’t feel guilty about your breast cancer
Guilt is terrible. It is a real suffering. An additional suffering that is added to all those directly linked to the disease. Our job, or at least our job as we see it and practice it here at the Paris Breast Center, is to heal by removing as much suffering as possible. We spend a great deal of time and energy on improving the care of women. This concerns first of all the surgical part, which is our core business: our objective is to save the breast whenever possible, even if you have been told elsewhere that it is not possible, or to systematically reconstruct the breast… But our goal is also to reduce physical suffering, as well as psychological suffering. We systematically put in place pain-relieving protocols that allow operated patients to smile again quickly.