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A different kind of card. July 30, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I had stopped at the nearest CVS the other day, since he needed poison ivy meds and I needed a birthday card for my soon-to-be 12-year-old niece. While OFB headed back to the pharmaceutical aisles, I went to check out the numerous card racks. And I got quite a shock.

Last time I’d looked, just weeks ago, there’d been the usual array of occasion cards (birthday, wedding, anniversary, graduation, confirmation, promotion, retirement, moving), holiday cards (Christmas, Hanukkah, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Assistant’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving), and general (sympathy, friendship, love, get well, pets, inspiration, religious, blank). True, these were divided into seemingly millions of categories, including age, price, and whether or not you wanted them to be tied to some celebrity and/or make noise. But though the formats changed, the categories remained pretty much the same.

This time, however, everything had changed. There was a whole new, prominently placed, area of cards from Hallmark’s Shoebox collection. There wasn’t a header over the section, no giant banner that said “Oh, God!” But that was my reaction when I looked at the new card categories: post-surgery, chemotherapy (“5 reasons why it’s great to lose your hair”), cancer survivor, even a Susan G. Komen breast cancer card.

As I looked at Hannah Montana, Barbie, and Pirates of the Caribbean birthday cards for my niece Mary, chuckled over Maxine cards, and tried to keep OFB from playing every Homer Simpson sound card on the racks, I couldn’t stop thinking about the “reality” cards on the opposite wall. Cancer, the terror of our time. Cancer treatment, even more terrifying for many.

What really disturbs me most about all this is that I can find no way to dismiss them. Hallmark is a very savvy company and does a ton of market research. If Hallmark has decided there’s a need for these cards, that customers are ready to come out in the open and buy cards that talk openly about cancer and chemotherapy rather than treating them as isolated hush-hush situations, then that says that cancer and chemotherapy have become so commonplace that there’s now a substantial market for cancer-themed cards.

Not that I’ve ever doubted it. Sometimes I feel like I’m waging a one-woman campaign to say that cancer is rampant in our society, is our #1 killer. No, no, it’s heart disease, the statisticians insist. I beg to differ. There are bazillion kinds of cancer, and many of them kill over a very, very long time. We’re not trying to compare cancer to a heart attack that fells its victim with one blow. Oh, no, no. If you added up all the victims of all the kinds of cancer, and then followed them until they eventually died of cancer, after however many remissions, you’d have statistics that would keep all Americans, not just me, lying awake at night.

I’ve long been convinced that cancer—such a rarity in the past, even in the early 20th century, that it was considered an event to even diagnose it—is the killer of our time. Not heart disease, not diabetes, not Alzheimer’s, not AIDS, frightening as they all are. Like a consummate actor who takes the stage in endless guises, cancer is the death star of our day. 

All the pink ribbons on cars, clothes, and return-address labels, the yellow “Live Strong” wrist bands, should be enough to convince us. But if not, here are the greeting cards, the ones that tell us to put our feet up after surgery or tell people we’re pirates because we’re wearing bandannas to cover our chemo-balded skulls or live every post-cancer-diagnosis day as a gift.

Mercy. Could America finally take these cards as a wake-up call and do real, comprehensive statistics analysis on the toll cancer is wreaking on our population? Tell us outright the number of annual diagnoses of all kinds of cancer, the number of annual deaths from all kinds of cancer—however long ago they were diagnosed—and the likelihood of an American getting some kind of cancer during the course of his or her life? These are the statistics I’d like—no, need—to hear.

And then, when the horrific tallies are finally done, I’d like to know when the farmers and factories and food manufacturers are going to stop poisoning our land, water, air, and food with cancer-causing chemicals.  And when the medical establishment is going to stop trying to tell us that we’re giving ourselves cancer by not eating right, losing weight, and exercising: It’s all our fault. Thanks, guys.

Obviously, we’ll be healthier overall if we’re fit, eat organic food, drink filtered water, avoid toxic habits like smoking, and live in an area with low levels of pollution, as opposed to breathing taxi exhaust and God knows what else every day in a large city. Doing all that, and skipping the fried chicken, onion rings, doughnuts, and the like might indeed be enough to prevent diabetes and heart disease. But not cancer.

Cancer is a cumulative disease: It takes a while for there to be enough damage to the cells, enough free radicals loose in the system, to get it going. And I’m convinced that all the healthy habits we can develop aren’t enough to offset the sea of chemical toxins we swim in all day, every day, wherever we live. Look at Lance Armstrong: Not your typical couch potato, yet being one of the world’s premier athletes didn’t protect him from cancer. We can run, but in an era of global pollution, we can’t hide: I’ll bet even Antarctica has measurable levels of chemical toxins. 

So rather than blaming us for falling ill, I’d like to see those responsible take the blame for killing us off, not by being punished, but by being made responsible for cleaning up their mess. If the major thrust of modern research was to find truly viable alternatives to the toxic chemicals that are still considered essential in every aspect of our lives, from making plumbing pipes and buildings to the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, and the batteries we use in all our “essential” electronic devices, I am confident that human ingenuity would prevail. If the government, or the Bill Gates and Warren Buffetts of the world, created a prestigious and valuable prize awarded annually, like the Nobel Prizes, to those who had come up with the most viable ways to clean up our poor planet, I’m sure our brightest and best would devote their minds and energies towards our world’s salvation and our own. If the medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies were given a mandate to find ways to actually prevent and actually cure cancer, perhaps we’d see breakthroughs that didn’t involve poisoning people in order to give them a few more years of dubious quality.

I would really like to see this happen. Because if it doesn’t, I can’t believe that some day, people won’t be heading to CVS to buy those cards for me.

                  ‘Til next time,




1. A different kind of card. « Poor Richard's Almanac | Calling Cards Live - July 30, 2010

[…] More: A different kind of card. « Poor Richard's Almanac […]

2. deb - July 30, 2010

Can’t tell you how many people cancer has sickened and killed in my life. There is a neighborhood nearby that has had some sort of cancer in every single household on the block. That cannot be a coincidence.

I think that’s true of all of us, Deb. The only explanation I can think of for why we’re not all up in arms screaming and shrieking is that cancer has been divided into bits and pieces—breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, leukemia, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, lymphoma, melanoma—rather than faced as a whole. If all the stats were added up, I’d have to hope the public outcry would be deafening.

3. Elephant's Eye - July 31, 2010

‘I’d like to know when the farmers and factories and food manufacturers are going to stop poisoning our land, water, air, and food with cancer-causing chemicals. And when the medical establishment is going to stop trying to tell us that we’re giving ourselves cancer by not eating right, losing weight, and exercising: It’s all our fault.’

Um, Silence, it IS OUR fault … we buy the food they manufacture.
We were whining about the crop-sprayers on the wheat-fields here in Porterville – and I said to someone, do you buy organic? Those farmers are spraying for you, for the bread you buy. And she staggered away in shock with eyes like saucers 😉 Why did no one tell me?!

The other thing is, we live longer. Each decade increases your risk of cancer, as the toxins accumulate within your body.

That’s an excellent point, Diana, much along the lines of blaming Wal-Mart for putting family-owned stores out of business or McDonald’s for making us fat while patronizing them. As I see it, the difference is that we can choose not to shop at Wal-Mart or eat at McDonald’s, but we can’t choose not to breathe, drink, or eat, or to avoid coming into contact with chemical toxins in our cars, houses, and workplaces. They are literally everywhere, and even worse, we’re poisoning every living thing on the planet along with ourselves. But you’re quite right that it’s up to each of us to try to be as responsible as we can. And while it’s true that the longer we live, the more likely we are to get cancer, it wasn’t true of most long-lived people in the past. (And rumors to the contrary, there were plenty, as is plain to see by checking the age-at-death of some of America’s long-lived Founding Fathers or, say, great Southwest Pueblo potters from the first half of the Twentieth Century. The high infant and child mortality rates and deaths of women in childbirth are what skew those oft-quoted statistics so young.) But cancer, like Type II diabetes, also seems to be striking people at younger and younger ages. Scary stuff!

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