I have autism-induced breast cancer (AIBC). While I am not absolutely certain that the 1.9 centimeter lump that grew in my left breast is the result of the stress of raising two autistic children, all indications point in that direction. There is virtually no cancer in my family, I eat organically, I exercise, I’m a good weight. OK, so I live in the toxic dump known as New Jersey, but that is the only other major risk factor. No, the drop in cortisol levels whenever one kid’s school calls or the other kid has a public “flare up” is enough for the cancer to take root.
So, I speak from experience when I say Stage 1 breast cancer has nothing on autism. The differences are vast and significant. Unlike autism, no one is telling me to “celebrate” my cancer. No one is telling me that cancer is “just a different way for cells to grow.” People have told me that we’ve always had cancer, but no one is using that is an excuse for not doing anything about it. No one is blaming me (or my mother) for my cancer. Unlike a person with autism, society does not say my cancer is my fault. Another difference is that in three years, I’ll either be dead or cured. Autism is not tangible, so it neither exists concretely nor definitely leaves the body. Although cancer could do to me what autism did to Avonte Oquendo, the chances of dying from a tumor that I treat properly are small and growing smaller.
However, one major similarity exists between breast cancer and autism: the “wisdom” of the experts. The standard of care for cancer includes popping this sucker out of my breast, and I’m fine with that. However, I’m more than a bit uneasy about the radiation treatment that the surgeon has recommended post-op. Taking a sledge hammer to my breast may indeed kill the cancer, but what about the organ that lies directly under my breast, my heart? If 10 or 20 years from now I develop a heart condition – which is also unheard of in my family – would it be the result of the radiation or just bad stuff happening to good people? The cancer experts don’t care; after all, the cancer didn’t return! Except that sometimes (often?) cancer does return, perhaps because radiation can cause cancer? And don’t get me started about chemo! I didn’t question the established wisdom concerning vaccines, and my kids have autism. I won’t repeat that mistake. I’ll look for alternatives, weigh the options, and determine the best path for me. Amazing how a little pain in the breast can turn one into a huge pain in the derrière.
Dr. Gayle DeLong is an associate professor in the Economics and Finance Department of Baruch College. Her research examines regulated industries such as banking and pharmaceuticals.