Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic:
Are you someone who enjoys the unsolicited opinions of strangers and acquaintances? If so, I can’t recommend cancer highly enough. You won’t even have the first pathology report in your hands before the advice comes pouring in. Laugh and the world laughs with you; get cancer and the world can’t shut its trap. Stop eating sugar; keep up your weight with milkshakes. Listen to a recent story on NPR; do not read a recent story in Time magazine. Exercise—but not too vigorously; exercise—hard, like Lance Armstrong. Join a support group, make a collage, make a collage in a support group, collage the shit out of your cancer. Do you live near a freeway or drink tap water or eat food microwaved on plastic plates? That’s what caused it. Do you ever think about suing? Do you ever wonder whether, if you’d just let some time pass, the cancer would have gone away on its own?
Before I got cancer, I thought I understood how the world worked, or at least the parts that I needed to know about. But when I got cancer, my body broke down so catastrophically that I stopped trusting what I thought and believed. I felt that I had to listen when people told me what to do, because clearly I didn’t know anything. Much of the advice was bewildering, and all of it was anxiety-producing. In the end, because so many people contradicted one another, I was able to ignore most of them. But there was one warning I heard from a huge number of people, almost every day, and sometimes two or three times a day: I had to stay positive. People who beat cancer have a great positive attitude. It’s what distinguishes the survivors from the dead.
…When I began to understand that attitude doesn’t have anything to do with survival, I felt myself coming up out of deep water. I didn’t cause my cancer by having a bad attitude, and I wasn’t going to cure it by having a good one. And then Coscarelli told me the whole truth about cancer. If you’re ready, I will tell it to you. Cancer occurs when a group of cells divide in rapid and abnormal ways. Treatments are successful if they interfere with that process.
That’s it, that’s the whole equation.