Published on: April 24, 2008Available on iTunes…
Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you by Webstop, your first stop for retail website design services.
I'm an idiot. Or at least, I have moments of idiocy, and unfortunately I also have a soapbox, and sometimes my moments of idiocy coincide with the times when I'm on my soapbox, and I've either had too little sleep or too much coffee or both. Or, I'm simply suffering from a little too much hubris.
I was going to talk about something else this morning, but I think it is more appropriate that I turn this space over to MorningNewsBeat users this morning. The reason: I wrote something yesterday that was profoundly offensive to some people. Not just a little offensive, which I can usually achieve without much effort. But really, really offensive.
I was commenting on a new study that says that cancer survivors tend to have the same obesity rates as the general population – even though there is evidence that an improved lifestyle – including a healthy diet and increased exercise – can prevent a recurrence of the disease. In fact, the study determined that less than 25 percent of cancer survivors are physically active on a regular basis, and more than 18 percent of them are obese.
In my commentary, I said I found this to be amazing, and I wrote, in part:"Now, there are a couple of possibilities. One is that a lot of people are idiots, and even the power of a cancer diagnosis isn;t enough to wake them up about personal responsibility for one's own health.
"Another possibility is that somehow the medical profession isn't turning the diagnosis into a teaching moment, isn't using the opportunity to make sure that the patients get a sense of how they can affect their own destinies.
"It seems to me that these study results highlight fundamental flaws in the human animal, at least in the 21st century – an inability to take responsibility for one's own actions, a lack of appreciation for the value of a long and productive life, and a kind of selfishness that certainly doesn;t take into account the repercussions of an early death on family and friends."
And, I finished with this sentence:"It is hard to have sympathy for people who refuse to look out for themselves."
Boy, do I wish I could take that back.
The responses speak for themselves.
One woman wrote:"I am a cancer survivor. I am, according to you, an idiot, or, possibly an idiot anyway.
I have had a lifelong struggle with my weight. I use the word 'struggle' very intentionally. I don't sit around pigging out, and I do exercise regularly, yet my body just does not want to look nice in a bathing suit. Its a daily, morsel by morsel struggle, and I (usually) do the very best I can. About 9 years before my cancer diagnosis, I lost almost 50 pounds and kept it off, with a tremendous amount of work and willpower. Since recovery, I have gained some back. I am not obese. Overweight, yes. Obese, no.
"You talk about people's inability to take responsibility. Let me define for you me taking responsibility after my cancer wake up call:
• I have changed jobs so that I no longer work too much overtime. In my new position, I go home after an eight hour day, and I'm on the road only about a quarter of the time that I used to be.
• My job is a big part of my life, but it is no longer the center of my whole life
• I took an inventory of my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I got rid of the ugly, made the bad a bit better, and do my very best to concentrate on the good.
• I reconnected with old friends that I had lost along the way.
• I followed through on hobbies and interests that had been on my "someday" list for way too many somedays.
"And, I gained some weight back.
"I was diagnosed with uterine cancer at a time when I was trying to start a family. At a time when I thought I would start to 'show', I was having my reproductive organs cut out of my body. The part of my body that is designed to create, nurture, and protect life.... tried to take mine. Do you know how hard it is to come to terms with that? Guess what? I got depressed. Guess what happens when you get depressed? Your metabolism dies. Guess what else? If you seek counseling to help you with depression, it can jeopardize your ability to adopt a child. So guess who didn't seek counseling and gained some weight in the process of getting over it all?
"I have never smoked. I wear sunscreen. I exercise. I get enough sleep. I take a daily vitamin. I never miss an annual physical, or even a dentist appt. I eat things like kale... I hate kale, but I eat it. I take care of myself, and I always have. Cancer doesn't only strike 'idiots' who don't take care of themselves.
"I agree with you that people need to take accountability. I also believe that most people are not idiots. People fight harsh internal battles, and most people fight them the best they can. And some do not, absolutely agreed. Some people are lazy, or they give up, or they reeeeealy love donuts. But to generalize the way you did is callous, uninformed, and cruelly unfair. Aren't you the one who just the other day was chastising someone for having so little faith in human nature?
"My mother used to have a saying too. "Don't judge someone until you've walked in their shoes." Have you walked in my shoes? Don't you dare call me an idiot, even 'possibly' an idiot."
user wrote:"I lost my sister last year to melanoma. She lived for 15 years with the disease, which is unheard of. She did everything right. BJ was always stocky, and struggled with her weight all her life. I suppose by some standards she would have been considered obese throughout her young adulthood and into her forties. By some standards…meaning people who think 5’5” and 195 pounds is obese. Your comments are uncharacteristically harsh and narrow.
"You say 'It is hard to have sympathy for people who refuse to look out for themselves.' I urge you to reshape your perception that overweight people are selfish and don’t take care of themselves. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that there are many factors that individuals cannot control that contribute to excess body fat. You also say that 'the medical profession isn't turning the diagnosis into a teaching moment' and I urge you to consider the team of oncologists that contributed to my sister’s 15 year success against the disease. They certainly deserve credit for helping my sister kick her fast-food habit. But even with rigorous changes to diet and exercise, my sister remained pleasantly rounded.
"Unfortunately toward the end, BJ struggled to keep her weight up. The irony is not lost on me. Nor is the recognition that she fought as hard as she could to survive, for both herself and the people who loved her."
And still another MNB
user wrote:"I clearly understand your position of a lack of sympathy to those that refuse to take care of themselves BUT……Walk a mile in their shoes.
"My wife is a breast cancer survivor of 1 year. It was an aggressive form, she had a partial mastectomy, two aggressive tumors were removed, six months of chemo and three months of radiation and a related problem that resulted in heart surgery 5 months ago.
"Thank God she is now doing quite well and she has begun a very regular exercise routine and she has and is losing weight and has made dietary changes.
"However it has been anything but easy and remains very confusing. Her cancer is thought to be related to estrogen and she was for a while under estrogen therapy in past years that probably contributed but should she have refused this Doctor recommended therapy?
"What exactly should she eat? Soy can elevate estrogen? Does or does not meat contribute to cancer? What about the plastic in water bottles? What about the challenge of overcoming 58 years of a lifestyle? Think it’s easy to change your basic lifestyle at the age of 58, particularly for someone who is employed and has limited time?
"Again I understand where you are coming from but it’s always easy to be critical from afar. We need to change lifestyles at an early age. Once these things catch up with you at a later age it can be very difficult to make major change in spite of what may appear to be common sense. These people need support, specific and actionable recommendations, and new found self discipline rather than being belittled for the bad choices and habits of the past."
There were more emails, some of them pretty vicious.
All of it was deserved.
While I continue to believe that there are a lot of people out there, only some of whom have had cancer, who do not take responsibility for their own health and fitness, laying into cancer survivors was a particularly heartless and thoughtless thing to do.
I lost my mother to cancer, but in a fit of pique I forgot what that was like, what she went through, how wrenching it was physically and emotionally. There are excuses for a lot of things, but never for forgetting where you come from.
I was wrong. I apologize.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I'm Kevin Coupe.