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Recently, I watched the Brad Pitt movie, World Word Z. In response to the lack of response to the zombie outbreak, one of the characters said:

“The problem with most people is that they don’t believe something can happen until it already has. It is not stupidity or weakness, it is just human nature. We don’t respond to a threat until we have it and when we have it, it is too late.”

This is a simple statement that sounds good, and can quite often be true.  However it can be equally true that people over respond to some threats while not responding enough to others.  “Human nature” is complicated and can be manipulated to have contradictory responses in seemingly similar situations.

But the quote did get me thinking about cancer and two groups I can divide the public into:

One group is composed of the majority of the population. This group, as the World War Z character suggests, are not interested in responding to the cancer threat. Not only are they not concerned with aggressively fighting cancer, they are not too concerned with preventive measures. I do not doubt that many of these people have family or friends in their lives that they love with all of their heart. Or that they value their own life.

However, they have abdicated their control for one reason or another. Maybe they think it will never happen to them. An understandable position in the early 1900’s when the rate of cancer diagnosis in America was as high as 1 in 33. However, it is naïve to think that way now given that the rate is 1 in 3 for women and 1 in 2 for men. Given that cancer is the number one cause of death worldwide.

A man is wrapped in red tape reading fear representing the paral

(c)iqoncept/bigstockphoto.com

Another reason is fear and denial. They don’t want to think about death, cancer, or any other form of chronic illness. Again with the rate of increase, of not just cancer, but heart disease, diabetes and other maladies, this is a luxury we do not have.

Then there are those who are so busy and feel the pull of the different directions of their life that they don’t have time to worry about it. Work, relationships, kids, and bills… life has enough stress in it already and they don’t want to deal with it. They feel like they can’t control it anyway, or know who to listen to with all the contradictory information out there. So they decide to say screw it. Maybe not consciously but that is the result. The reality is they may be screwing themselves.

The second group is infinitely smaller. They are passionate and devoted to the cause of curing and preventing cancer. They may not always agree about the means or the method, but they are fighting. And while some may be driven by greed, many have their heart in the right place.

So the question is. How do we get more people from the first group and into the second? To be as concerned and active about cancer prevention and finding a cure as we are about social media and terrorism?

One way is to understand that by fearing, denying and avoiding dealing with cancer we are empowering it and making it stronger. This isn’t esoteric theory, this is statistical fact supported by years of increase in the rate of cancer diagnosis.

Simple psychology also says that to avoid something out of fear makes it more likely to come true. Avoid studying for a test for fear of failure, and you are more likely to fail that test.

From an evolutionary perspective, fear works when it gives us pause or caution about a potential threat. It gives us a chance to consciously acknowledge and respond to it. The response goes a long way to determining if we overcome and conquer that fear or succumb to it.

The evolutionary alternative of confronting or “fighting” a fear is known as “flight”.  Flight might work against a slower or dumber mammal but not against cancer. In other words, flight is proving not to be an effective strategy or viable option against cancer. Therefore, as one of my favorite childhood TV characters Mr. Spock would say, logic dictates that we fight it.

Sure, you can wait to see if you ever get cancer before you fight it, but by then, it can be too late.  Or even if you survive it, it can still come with a great physical, emotional and financial cost.  Costs that perhaps could have been avoided if the threat was dealt with (or eliminated) sooner by employing preventive measures.

When we avoid any stress, that never takes it completely away. That stress will still find a way to manifest in our personality and lives. It will consciously and or unconsciously stalk us. And when that stress comes home to roost, and at a time NOT of our choosing, it often does so with a greater vengeance than if it was dealt with sooner or in a set of circumstances where we took initiative and or control.

Again, in the case of cancer, by dealing with it sooner, you can potentially avoid it altogether. Beat it before it ever has a chance to wreak havoc on your body or on the body of someone you love.

I recently attended a lecture at UCLA by David Kessler co-author (with Elizabeth Kubler Ross) of the book Life Lessons. One of the things he talked about is how all fears trace back to the fear of death. He inferred, if you overcome that fear you can eliminate or mitigate all others.

A worthy exploration for World War C.

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