“Fighting” illness

Women are also encouraged to inspect their breasts regularly, although “Yep, still there” probably isn’t doing the trick. The health benefits to men of regularly inspecting women’s breasts is still in doubt, but statistics so far indicate that the ideal number of breasts to inspect regularly is less than 3.

No, today’s headline is not meant to worry you. Apart from a tiny head cold and burning my left hand on the wood stove, I am fine, as far as I know. Rather, I want a word with the whole “fighting” thing, which I believe is stupid and counterproductive.

I see this expression used in general, but mostly about cancer. I can see how people may think of cancer as some kind of enemy, since it is dangerous and unpredictable. But it really is no smarter than cursing the chair when you stub your toe. It may make sense at the moment, but the chair is utterly unaffected by your curses. And so is the cancer, I have every reason to believe. And then some, possibly.

Because reading is more or less automatic with me, I sometimes take in headlines of popular magazines in the shop even though I don’t buy them. And there will be a picture of someone who is probably famous in the 3-dimensional world, or at least in the 2-dimensional, and the words “Lost the battle against cancer”, which means the person is dead. What the hell people. Are you a loser because you die from cancer?  Or would these people say “Lost the fight against the lawnmower” if they got run over by their excessively heavy and pricey gardening equipment? That would actually make some sense, but usually you have the good grace to not say such a thing out loud even if you think it.

Cancer is not some guy. It is a malfunction of our own bodies. The body WILL malfunction in some way sooner or later. Even I will die one day, barring an extreme case of divine intervention. (Which seems highly unlikely, though I suppose it would be a nice surprise.) You are not a loser just because you don’t live eternally in this world.

(Incidentally, my ideal obituary would be something like this: “It pleased the Lord to take him home, but it did not please anyone else.”)

The second part of the equation is that fighting, in the sense of being mentally agitated, may actually kill you. All studies that have even looked at the matter show that meditation – the opposite of flailing around – improves the immune system, while stress weakens it. We may question the intelligent design of this, given that any normal person would probably become agitated when diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness. But I guess it does level the playing field a bit, since meditative people probably come later to the feed trough and may also be less likely to procreate. So they should have some benefits so the planet is not completely overrun by barbarians.  (In so far as it is not already.) Or perhaps the Designer just likes people meditating. In any case, it works to some extent, while fighting does not.

Vitamin D also helps regulate the immune system, making it more active when needed and less likely to attack healthy tissue. You can get it from direct sunlight, or if you live in Norway and it is winter, you can get it from cod liver oil, which is cheap and widely available. I suppose vegans will have to take an expensive trip to the tropics to soak in the sun instead, but I have only moderate qualms about cod liver oil. Verily, ye are more than many fishes! is what I think. Besides, they get their revenge in the horrible taste of the thing.

It is indeed a widespread belief that somehow forcing yourself to be optimistic will improve your odds of surviving illness, particularly cancer. However, this is as far as we know just an artifact of  the mind. A study years ago (which I failed to bookmark, it seems) actually did interview people who were newly diagnosed with cancer, about their optimism or lack thereof. A few years later, they interviewed the survivors. There was no connection at all between the initial optimism and actual survival. However, there was a very strong correlation between survival and remembering that one had been an optimist, regardless of whether this was actually true or not.

Life is actually a lot like that. Neurotypicals spend a lot of their time editing their memories to conform to consensus reality, the reality people agree on as opposed to the reality they experience in the moment.

Another fascinating but rather obvious study showed that looking at pictures of sick people actually increases the activity of the immune system. This makes perfect sense, since in the wild humans live in close-knit communities. If you see someone obviously sick, the germs are probably already all over you, or certainly will be in a few hours.

So in short: Don’t be pointlessly optimistic, take your D-vitamin, look at pictures of sick people and meditate. Oh, and don’t divorce your wife, if you’re a male. Exercise daily. Die anyway sooner or later. (But hopefully later rather than sooner.)