a woman looking worried surrounded by angry and questioning people

Putting a Stop to the Torment of "Why Did I Develop Bladder Cancer?"

Upon receiving a bladder cancer diagnosis, one of the most common questions we tend to ask ourselves is “why?” Why is this happening to me, to us? And what caused it? Why did I get this disease and what could I have done differently?

As someone who has spent probably months of my life mired in the trenches of “why?” with regard to bladder cancer, let me offer a two-part radical and counter-intuitive idea:

  1. why someone has bladder cancer simply doesn’t matter and
  2. continuing to ask why can cause an awful lot of agony for you and those close to you.

I say this from experience.

A yearning for control is often at the heart of “why?”

I think as humans we have a deep-seated need to try to understand these challenges in our lives, to resolve our curiosity, and – most importantly – to assume some measure of control over something so out of our control.

We have a tendency to believe that if we can just understand something on an intellectual level, then perhaps we can “solve” it and that, in turn, will relieve our emotional distress.

“Why?” wasn’t so bad in the beginning

I could cope with the “why?” question when my first husband, Ahmad, was initially diagnosed with early-stage disease. It didn’t feel too tortuous because the outlook was very hopeful. Said another way, life didn’t seem too cruel at that point – just unfortunate, highly inconvenient, and scary but with a lot of hope on the horizon.

When early-stage cancer morphed into metastatic disease

But that changed when the disease morphed into an aggressive, metastatic form a couple of years later and things looked very bleak. I wondered “why?” all the time. Why was this happening to us? What did we do to deserve this? Was it a lifestyle choice – recently or long ago? Was it someplace we lived at some point…or someplace he had lived many years ago?

Knowing “why?” really doesn’t help

I tormented myself wondering why and pondering how unfair it all was. And it really didn’t get me anywhere. That kind of suffering and venting is productive, necessary, and cathartic to a point. But beyond that point, it is draining.

It really doesn’t help to know why. And it is so difficult to know why definitively. For example, some former smokers assume that smoking caused their bladder cancer. There’s a good chance it did. But how does that help them? They still have bladder cancer and still must deal with it. Will they encourage others not to smoke? Yes, probably, but that is the general direction of our culture anyway so they might have done that even without a cancer diagnosis.

What if toxic chemicals in water caused the cancer?

What about if poisonous water caused the illness? If this is known definitively to be the case, then that information might be helpful. (Laws and policies could be changed to prevent future contamination.) But, it is so hard to know for sure. And when you are facing bladder cancer, you really need all your physical and emotional energy for treating it, not fighting political battles.

The goal is healing and self-care

I am not at all suggesting that we should ignore known causes of bladder cancer. What I am suggesting is that as a former caregiver, I would encourage patients and caregivers to prioritize health, healing, and wellness – what do you need to do now to promote those in your life? (Both physically and emotionally). Just taking care of those can consume enormous amounts of energy.

After those are resolved, “why?” might be an interesting and useful question. Or it might be better left alone.

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