Food For Thought

Cancer: Why Me? 

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

Dad, I just want to have a chance to fight this thing.” “I just want to live.” “My life is essentially on hold.”

These are recent comments made by my son Michael, who is now in a battle with the “Big Casino.” Cancer is usually thought of as an illness of the aged, but many people must confront this disease at a young age. Mike is a 33-year-old young father of two (see adoption article last month) who was in excellent health. He did all the right things — exercised regularly, ate very little junk food, didn’t smoke or drink, and kept mentally fit. He is a dedicated parent and teacher who is highly respected by his students. A former all-state baseball player, he still competes in softball and builds houses in his spare time. Now his life is on hold and we all ask, WHY?

Every family that reads this article has probably been affected by this disease. My dad succumbed to lung cancer after a lifetime working in the coal mines and developing black lung disease. Mom passed away with colon cancer at the age of 94. She had surgery to remove the tumor about 18 months before her passing. Mom was a very healthy woman who had never previously entered the hospital, except for the birth of her two children. We should all be so lucky, although luck probably doesn’t have much to do with contracting cancer. For some reason the potential for cancer cells, like other undesirable things, exists in our bodies. Who knows why? What we do and how we live has some effect on our probability of developing the disease; but in many cases it’s just a matter of genetics. Such is Mike’s case.

Mike has a germ cell tumor in the mediastinum area of his chest. When the doctor told him that his tumor was the size of a grapefruit, Mike said, “I’ll never look at a grapefruit the same way again.” Mike thought he had laryngitis. Time revealed he had something more worrisome. Testicular and ovarian cancers are germ cell tumors. Lance Armstrong, who is racing in the Tour de France as I am writing this article, had testicular cancer. He now is cancer free and pedaling his way across Europe in search of a sixth title. My son Michael has that same fighting spirit. In the past couple of years he almost bled to death from tonsillectomy surgery. Then he fought battles with his reproductive and urinary systems. Eighteen months ago he had brain surgery to remove an AVM, and six months ago he survived a head-on collision when a young man crossed a double line to pass another vehicle. WHY did all these things happen to such a fine individual? Every day we read in the paper or hear on the news about young people having to face dreaded diseases and ask WHY?

If man had the ability to control such things there would be no diseases on earth. (I think!) If man doesn’t or can’t control these unwanted things then who does? Mike’s doctors are trying to control the disease and have him on a four-treatment cycle of chemotherapy. The surgeon who obtained the biopsy and removed the fluid from around his heart also is working to control the disease’s effects. Mike’s had to overcome the pain of surgery and faces the terrible side effects of chemicals as they attack the good and bad cells in his body. He’s not alone in his battle. Debra Ames, Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative director Malcolm Ames’ wife, is also under treatment, for breast cancer. A neighbor friend is sharing time with Mike while he fights throat cancer. There are many others at the Prince William Medical Center who are fighting and winning the battle against this disease. The staff, nurses, and doctors in the oncology unit are important levels of support, so we as a family know we don’t have to fight this battle alone. Most of all, we know we are not alone because God is always with us and has the ultimate control. He has the only answer to the WHY ME question.

A while back I wrote an article supporting school prayer. It’s sad to think that Mike’s name has been added to so many prayer trees, but his own school couldn’t start one. When our children were young we did everything to try to control their environment to keep them safe … “Put your coat on.” “Don’t drive too fast.” “Eat the right foods.” “Wear your seat belt.” The list goes on and on. Education gives us some of the tools we need for survival, but the ultimate tool is knowing that God will help us to carry out his will. Faith in the knowledge of God is the best tool in a person’s tool bag. The only thing is, we all need more practice in using it. I know I’m certainly honing my skills at this time of need.

Man has the freedom to direct his energy and resources to help others. The gospel this week was on the Good Samaritan. I often wonder why all of us don’t seek to be better Samaritans. Shouldn’t we be using more of our human resources and money for fighting diseases like AIDS, cystic fibrosis, cancer, heart disease, birth defects, and others? We waste far too much of our talents and resources on destructive behaviors. We need to ask ourselves, WHY? Many of the major organizations that lead the fight against dreaded diseases must go begging to receive the funds needed to carry out research designed to improve life and find cures. We need to allocate more of our resources to help cure the physical, mental and spiritual illnesses of our society. Terror can strike a family in many ways.

Finally, I hope you’ll forgive me for thinking out loud with this article. I had planned on writing on college teaching, but somehow this message seemed more important. It’s a message for both writer and reader. We all need a little self reflection from time to time.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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