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Has anybody read, When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner?

I have been reading it lately--my Job/LC Stigma experience at church actually sort of prompted me-- and it really has proven to be a treasure trove of insight....

BUT... And this is a REALLY BIG BUT for me.... At least twice, Kushner has used Lung Cancer almost as the exception to his rules.... The whole premise of his book is that we don't bring suffering or bad things onto ourselves. And that when people 'blame the victim' to try to make sense of life they heap even more suffering on someone who is already in enough of a pit. He submits that life is senseless and sometimes bad things just happen.

BUT... Then he makes comments about natural causes and how, "A man who has smoked for 20 years hardly has reason to ask, 'Why me, God' when he is diagnosed with Lung Cancer.:

I read that, and couldn't help but think that it went totally against the whole premise of his book... Especially since though, yes, research indicates that a history of smoking increases one's risk, in reality there is no way to conclusively say that a person who smoked got Lung Cancer simply for that reason. If that is the case than why do the vast majority of smokers not suffer from the disease. I know, I know... I'm preaching to the choir, here. ;)

The fact is, Lung Cancer *is* senseless tragedy. No one asks for it, or deserves it. And it strikes just as capriciously and maliciously as any other affliction.

Last night I read another quote which essentially said that we are ready to feel guilt to make sense of the situation. Because we like neat 'cause and effect.' Then he uses LC as an example of such neat cause and effect, as if it were THE black and white disease.

It is just so frustrating to me to pick up this book hoping to find not only insight and encouragement in the new world-view this journey has given me, but also some comfort in losing my Mom and hurting so over that, only to have him say in two different places so far that her suffering 'makes sense' but almost every other kind doesn't.

So... I'm going to finish the book, and try not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. And then, I'm going to try to find an address to contact Rabbi Kushner to point out what I feel are blazing inconsistencies and to educate him a bit about LC.

*Sigh* I know that until it's in your life it is easy to be ignorant... But I hate when the people who are supposed to offer comfort, point fingers, level blame, and increase the hurt just like all the others.

--End Rant--

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Would you like to respond to the Rabbi? There was no email address listed to contact him, but there is a phone number and he does have voicemail.


Temple Israel of Natick

145 Hartford Street

Natick, MA 01760


Rabbi Harold Kushner, Rabbi Laureate - extension 100

General information email address: office@tiofnatick.org

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OK, I was a heavy smoker for over 50 years, so the lung cancer was not totally unexpected. But, on the other hand, my Grandfather smoked, literally up until his death at 89, and it was diabetes that did him in. I had sorta been looking for prostrate cancer, and the lung cancer caught my unawares. Playing the "blame game" really serves no purpose!



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People do all kinds of things that are not healthy. Some like to single out smoking. What about overweight, lack of exercise etc. I quit smoking 30 years ago, but I would not have started if I knew what I do today. I don’t think anyone picked up their first cigarette and said this will give me cancer, then went ahead and smoked it.

As for the book take from it what is good and forget the rest. I would be curious to know if he is overweight. From his photo it looks like he might be.

Stay positive, :)


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I don't want to start a controversy, but I don't think ignoring the link between smoking and cancer is in anyone's best interest. You're right that no one deserves lung cancer and that blaming the victim is cruel. However, in the same way that alcoholics and drug abusers increase their risk of liver disease and having unprotected sex increases the risk of STD's, smoking does, in fact, increase the risk of lung cancer, COPD, and heart disease.

My husband was a smoker for 40 years. I tried for many years to get him to quit. I finally realized that it was his decision to make and he chose smoking. Early in our marriage of 31 years I told him that I would never mention smoking again, but that if he got lung cancer I would not stick around and watch him die. Of course, that turned out to be an empty threat. I did watch him suffer for 14 months and held him as he died.

During his illness I never brought up smoking, but he did repeatedly. He was haunted by the fact that he did this to himself. He blamed himself for putting me and our daughter through hell. He wished he had quit when he was young. His final days were spent apologizing for everything that had happened and for being so "hard headed". He cried knowing he would not get to see our granddaughter grow up and that she would not remember him. And even though I kept telling him that it wasn't his fault he took full responsibility for his choices.

I wish he could have denied it, or rationalized it or told himself that something else was to blame because by then it really didn't matter what caused his cancer.

If we want to prevent as many cases of lung cancer as possible, we have to acknowledge the link to smoking. Not doing so is irresponsible.

Jim was the bravest, most honorable person I have ever known and I'll always admire the way he handled this disease and the way he died.

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Smoking is NOT the only cause of lung cancer and the fact that non-smokers are in a growing minority should point that out. People who continue to feed the misconception that only smokers get (and therefore "deserve") lung cancer are contributing to the continuing lack of funding for a cure.

The bottom line is that NO ONE deserves this disease. Someone who has smoked 40 years is no more deserving than me. Take a moment to read my profile. I am not the only never smoker to be a patient and I DEMAND a cure be sought.



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I read your profile and I am truly happy that you are a 4 year survivor and look to have many, many years ahead of you. And I never intended to imply that only smokers get lung cancer. My father was a nonsmoker and died of pulmonary fibrosis so I know that there are no simple answers as to how and why any disease (including cancer) progresses. And I certainly don't think my husband "deserved" to die.

But, the link between smoking and lung cancer is scientifically proven. It's even mentioned on my husband's death certificate.

My hope would be that funding for lung cancer research be increased and that the number of cases decreases because the next generation won't ever start smoking to begin with. But if we try to blur the lines between smoking and disease we're playing right into the hands of the tobacco companies.

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I think Val's point was that the Rabbi has a book dedicated to "not blaming the victim"...then walks over his own words by blaming those who get lung cancer as bringing it on themselves.

It's the inconsistancy in the Rabbi's words that are at issue here, I believe. I'm pretty sure we all agree that lung cancer just bites the big ole green weenie overall.

Much love and many prayers for everyone...

And Val? Great catch and wonderful post. I've never read the book (and probably won't...I think it might tick me off a bit) but I'm hoping you find reward in it!!

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