It Comes Down to Information

I had a little freak-out session this past month. It was concerning my health. 

Because I have had cancer in the past, I must have a yearly physical and mammogram. Last month was the month. And…I got a call back on my mammogram because it showed an abnormality. Ok, no big deal, I thought to myself. 

But, then I let that sink in for a few days. I was diagnosed with cancer at age 27, and it utterly blindsided me. I don’t want to be blindsided again, and there is part of me that is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I try to live as healthily as possible, and I’m doing a good job. Unfortunately, though, having any sort of extra testing for any sort of abnormality still has the capacity to unravel me. 

My next step, of course, was to go to the internet and WebMD…because the internet has all the answers! I need someone reading this right now to BAN me forever from WebMD. This is what I found in the sources I looked at -- there might be a possible link between thyroid cancer (the kind I had TWICE) and breast cancer. As a thyroid cancer survivor, I have a 500% higher risk of having breast cancer sometime in my life. Freak out session commences. For real.

Ten days later, I had my follow-up mammogram and ultrasound. That day, the wait between the two tests was about 15 minutes. During the lull, I started to cry and, once I started, I couldn’t stop. The tech looked at me kind of strange, like I was freaking out for no good reason. But in my mind, I had a very good reason. 

It turns out the abnormality was just benign cysts. 

Tech, “Yeah, we just wanted to further check to make sure they were only cysts.”

Me, “Aren’t I high risk for breast cancer since I had thyroid cancer?”

Tech, “Hmmm, I don’t think think so; I don’t think that’s a thing. Actually, looking at your chart, we put you in the low end of average risk. 11% is your risk. It doesn’t run in your family and you are at a healthy weight and fit. You have a low risk for it.”

Me *Blank Stare*

I walked out of the testing thinking that information would have been helpful to have 10 days ago. It could have helped me not have a freak-out session. It could have informed me and helped my mind not to wander down the interwebs. Ugh! I saw my endocrinologist a few days later for my yearly check-up with him. He told me the same thing; thyroid cancer and the synthetic thyroid medicine I have taken for 20 years, don’t increase my risk of breast cancer. Freak-out based on misinformation.

It comes down to information, doesn’t it?

Having reliable, credible information. Not alternative facts. Not hyperbolic statements. But information from people who are experts in the field can be helpful. And realizing that not all information, especially on the internet, is helpful! Ask me how I know.

Information is the key in my work. This is why it’s so important for me to share what I know about the Middle East. This is why it’s so important to teach. This is why it’s so important for me to remain open and have conversations, even with people who differ.  

How many people do you think have misinformation about the Middle East or Muslims or Palestinians or refugees? It’s interesting that every time I speak, people will approach me and tell me they never knew any of what I shared or had no idea what life was like for Palestinians. Can you imagine what it’s like for me to read social media some days with the rhetoric and fear that is so prevalent and acceptable?

At the very least, it’s frustrating, at worst, painful. Sometimes I think we want misinformation because it fits our worldview or its more comfortable or it proves our stereotypes to be real. With the simple case of my health story above, maybe it fed into my “the other shoe is going to drop” narrative that continues to rear its ugly head without my vigilance. It really tapped into my fear and trauma that this is going to happen to me again.

How does your information, misinformation or your sources tap into your fear (rational and irrational) of the Middle East, terrorism, refugees, and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?

What’s been important to me is sharing the Palestinian narrative. As much as I can, through my own American lens, share what I have experienced, share what I have seen, share what I know to be true. I must keep it on Palestinians and their stories. Because it is about people seeing them, knowing about their lives, combating the stereotypes, and relating. My hope is that others can see our common humanity, can see themselves in them, just as I can.

Part of the problem is the stereotypes we have and the single story we hear. We reduce people down to a stereotype. Palestinians are Hamas. Hamas are all terrorists. Therefore, all Palestinians are terrorists. Or they are reduced down to the suffering poor. This couldn’t be more untrue of most Palestinian refugees. There are many stories of suffering and loss but also of beauty and resilience. I included a Ted Talk from Chimamanda Negozi Adichie on the danger of single story and worldview. I shared this a few years ago and it is worth another share, it is powerful!  Give it a watch:

Another potential problem is intent. What’s the intent for sharing Palestinian narrative? Is it to punish or demonize the Israelis? Is it to further a political agenda? Is it about guilt or pity? There could 101 motives for why people are advocates for Palestinians and no one ever has a 100% pure motive. In my experience, people want to fight about it, debate the issue, and win the debate. It’s us versus them. In many cases, they want to demonize the Israelis or even their fellow Americans who disagree; it isn’t about actually sharing the reality of life for Palestinians. Do we hate one side so much that we stand up for the rights of one and refuse rights to the other? And once again, the humanity of the Palestinians is missed and they remain unknown to the majority of Americans. Because we are busy arguing and protesting, they remain invisible. This article from the Huffington Post deeply resonated with me and addresses the question of Palestinian humanity well. How do we elevate others’ humanity?

I have mentioned over and over again, the biggest part of the problem is my own heart. Or the state of my own heart. Am I willing to learn? Am I willing to step out of my comfort zone? Am I willing to have my worldview shaken to see the reality for someone else? Am I willing to lose an argument? Am I willing to be wrong? Am I willing to have the information I need so I do not reduce any other human being down to a stereotype? Am I willing to step out and share that information?

I am traveling back to the Middle East later this month. I do so with much joy at returning. Maybe because after a close call, I feel like I get another chance. Do you know why I started crying while waiting between tests? I was in the waiting room with another lady. She looked worried, more so than me. I looked at her and said, “Mondays, am I right?” and she replied with, “and it’s already been a bad day.” You know when you can feel someone’s sorrow, I felt hers and I started to pray and wish blessing and health for her. She was called in before I and after she left I thought to myself how do I want to go into this test, afraid or grateful…or maybe a little of both.

I recounted in my mind just how lucky and blessed I am. Regardless of what happened with the test, my story isn’t the single narrative of cancer. I have been able to pursue my dreams and really do what I wanted in my life and hopefully make a difference in the world. In spite of cancer. Actually while living with cancer. I realize that is a privilege, something that most people don’t get to do, follow their dreams. And that’s when the tears started. Anxiety of course, mixed in, but mostly I was just grateful for how my life has unfolded.

Life is too short to be lived in fear. Live is too short to have freak-out sessions. Life is too short to do anything other than love people and to love myself. Once again, I got another reminder to live like you’ve been given a second chance. Every day is another chance for all of us.


Suzann Mollner2 Comments