Friday, August 2, 2013

What Causes Lymphoma?

New researcher out of Emory University: incidents of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma are higher among people who live in regions near facilities that release benzene into the environment. Benzene is used as a solvent, is a component of some fuels, and is used in a whole lot of industries. Seems kind of tough to me to even nail down where it might come from.

The researchers make clear, though, that benzene exposure won't necessarily translate into developing lymphoma. It's a population study, looking at trends in incidents of the disease and distance from benzene release sites, not a study of individuals who were definitely exposed to benzene.

It's kind of hard, really, to make that kind of connection for lymphoma -- to say, Hey, you worked with this chemical, or that pesticide, or you were exposed to that amount of radiation, so that's what caused your follicular lymphoma (or whatever).

And I'm not convinced it's even worth knowing, unless you can know for sure.

A few weeks ago, someone wrote to the support group, asking people what caused their lymphoma. Some people knew (or claimed to know) for sure. Others were less confident, but willing to speculate anyway. And some of us (me included) just don't know.

Here's the problem that I have with the question: if we don't know for sure, what good comes from speculating? A whole lot of things can possibly cause lymphoma. If I get diagnosed, and I look back and identify something I did that might have caused it, can I end up feeling anything but guilt? That time I worked as a housepainter to help pay tuition -- could that have done it? Should I have taken a different job? Was it the radiation I received when I caught that other tumor early? Should I have held off and insisted on a different type of treatment, less effective but "safer"?

We make choices. We can't change the past.

To me, lymphoma patients have enough negative emotions to deal with. We don't need to add guilt or regret.

If I made a choice years ago, and I knew, absolutely, without doubt, that it caused my follicular lymphoma, then I'd want to know, because I'd devote a big chunk of my time to making sure others didn't make that same choice.

But I have no idea.

So I focus on the present, doing what I can to stay informed and do what I can to make good choices from here.

I suggest you do the same.