By Ralph Blum
There is only one other form of abuse that approaches medical hexing for its pernicious influence, and that is self-hexing. When you are diagnosed with any type of cancer it’s natural to ask, “Why did this happen to me?” Or “Could I have prevented it?” Or most pernicious, “Did I do something to bring this on myself?”
To some extent we are all responsible for maintaining our own health—for watching our diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding, to the best of our ability, the emotional stressors that negatively impact our immune system. But there are those who cross the line from responsibility into the zone of guilt and self-blame, who believe it is their fault they got cancer.
While no evidence exists to indicate that prostate cancer is some kind of “retribution” for sexual misconduct, I have met intelligent, rational men who, although they rarely discussed it, genuinely believe that they had brought on their cancer by being “bad boys.” After telling me about his promiscuity, one man said ruefully, “I guess I got what I deserved.” Logical? No. But in his mind, the just measure of “let the punishment fit the crime.
This kind of negative and irrational belief causes feelings of guilt and self-blame which, over time, create stress hormones that will weaken the immune system. As I have learned more about our ability to tilt the scales toward either healing or illness with our beliefs, I have become increasingly aware that those who blame themselves for getting cancer are sabotaging their chances of recovery.
Nor is this guilt-driven form of self-hexing exclusive to men. According to psychologist Carolyn Conger, there are women who blame themselves and who feel that they deserve their cancer. After her hysterectomy, one woman told Conger: “I let too many strangers into my body.”
Although I logged many miles as a bad boy myself, I was fortunate that it never occurred to me to connect my prostate cancer to my less than exemplary sexual history. However, I can see now that the way I was living for so many years made me a likely candidate for some life-threatening disease. Simply put, I did not take good care of my health. But instead of feeling guilty and blaming myself, I chose to see the cancer as a serious wake-up call. Rather than dwelling on how I may have participated in getting prostate cancer, I decided to participate in my own healing. I took the cancer as a heads-up, an urgent message from my body that I needed to review and reshape my life on all levels—physical, emotional and spiritual.
So if any of you reading this have impaled yourselves on the punji stakes of mindless old behavior, I say be done with self-hexing. “Reframe” your cancer: See it a catalyst for change. And give yourself a break. Go mountain climbing. Take your sweetie on a road trip. Go out and buy yourself a new putter. Expect a miracle—and talk to guys who have experienced one.
About Ralph Blum (1932-2016):
Ralph H. Blum was a cultural anthropologist and author, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University with a degree in Russian Studies. His reporting from the Soviet Union, the first of its kind for The New Yorker (1961—1965), included two three-part series on Russian cultural life. He wrote for various magazines, among them Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, and Vogue. Blum has published three novels and five nonfiction books. He lived with prostate cancer, without radical intervention, for twenty years.