Can aggression in men lead to disease and inhibit recovery from life-threatening diseases?
“Have you ever seen a tumor disappear by itself,” my wife asked the surgeon.
“Never! I have seen one disappear with chemo and radiation, though,” said the surgeon.
“Oh that’s good, then you don’t have to do the surgery,” I said hopefully.
“No, we still do the surgery, even if the tumor disappears,” said the surgeon without blinking an eye.
What I have noticed about conventional treatments to cancer is that once you sign up, you go all the way. Not only that, all the doctors are strong-arming you to sign up. It kind of feels like a civilized mafia.
In Choices in Healing, Michael Lerner studies different cancer treatments in five different countries. American medicine is the most aggressive which Lerner argues reflects the aggression in our culture. Lerner states, “Aggressive action is a part of the American ethos: football is the most aggressive of national sports; the rate of violent crime is far higher in America than in any of the other industrial democracies; and the rate of incarceration of Americans far exceeds that of any industrial democracy.”
Reflecting on the examples Lerner uses, I can’t help but notice the male dominance in football, violent crime, and incarceration. I was also struck by the fact that all my oncologists and surgeons were men. Would a woman oncologist be open to a less aggressive treatment plan? Are women in med school less likely to pursue oncology or surgery? One of my friends was top of her class in surgical oncology, but she dropped out and became an obstetrician.
In my life, I’ve found that one of the unconscious walls of the act-like-a-man box was aggression. I can’t tell you how many times I was told, “it’s now or never.” Thinking back, it was never now or never. I always had more time than I thought. I always had second chances.
But if you talk to my male oncologist or surgeon, they will tell you that I might never get a second chance to go at this cancer aggressively. “We need to start chemo like last week,” said the surgeon.
Although aggression has been beneficial for my career, my ego gratification, and my sex life, it hasn’t done much for my health or my relationships. I tried a back-flip on my snowboard and landed on my head. To this day, I still have crossed vertebrae in my neck. Anytime I get aggressive when disciplining my sons or arguing with my wife, the outcomes are never pretty.
I’m thinking that maybe I’ll break out of the man box in my treatment of cancer as well. What if I didn’t rush into a decision just yet about whether to apply radiation, chemo, and surgery? What if I tried to nurture my body, my diet, my relationships? According to the doctors, this is ludicrous. They have a view that a tumor can only grow and spread. Their strategy sounds a lot like preemptive strikes we made against countries we “were almost certain” had weapons of mass destruction.
Yes, cancer is a killer, but do all cancers kill? Maybe the reason the surgeon had “never” seen a tumor disappear is because he cut them all out before they had a chance to go into remission. When you have the “now or never” mentality, you are never going to see what happens if you do nothing.
As a man, I feel like I’ve had way too much aggression in my life, from high school sports to surfing localism to dog-eat-dog office politics. I’m choosing to bring more peace in my life by being kinder to myself and other. Like Han Solo, I’m going to listen to Obi Wan Kenobi’s advice, “there are alternatives to fighting.” Of course, this isn’t a movie. This is my life I am talking about, but that makes it all the more important that I choose non-violence.
One thing I’ve realized about aggression is that once you unleash it, you can never take it back. You can never pull back the punch you just threw or the words you just stabbed into the heart of your loved one. You also cannot undue radiation, chemo, or surgery.
In the future, I might try these treatment plans, but I’m going to try peaceful negotiations first before I drop any radiation or poison on my body.