A black cat is shown crossing the viewer's path

What’s the Role of Superstitions in Lung Cancer?

I’ve never considered myself a particularly superstitious person. In my life B.C. (“Before Cancer”), I didn’t run when a black cat crossed my path or carefully step over cracks in the sidewalk. After more than five and a half years of living with stage IV lung cancer, however, my feelings and actions have definitely changed!

Find a penny, pick it up

This past weekend, I almost completely flipped out when my son noticed a penny laying on the ground and said that it was too dirty to pick it up. Coming from a teenage boy, it had to look really disgusting for him to refuse to touch it! Not only did I pick up this filthy penny, but I wiped it off and put it in my purse. You know, “find a penny, pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.” I’m not sure when this started, but I ALWAYS pick up stray pennies now, regardless of whether they are heads or tails.

My old and new superstitions

I also knock on wood whenever I talk about how fortunate I’ve been with my treatment, refuse to open umbrellas inside the house, and if a salt shaker gets knocked over, I throw salt over my left shoulder. If two bad things happen, I wait for the third to occur with dread because “bad things come in threes.” My parents did all these things and more when I was growing up and I used to think such superstitions were ridiculous. Now they are an everyday part of my life as well.

I have some other superstitions that I have developed that are specific to my own scan days. I always wear the same pair of stretchy black leggings when I go for my scans and oncology appointments. I claim that I wear them because they are comfortable for a stressful day, but in reality, I kind of believe that if I don’t wear them, I will receive bad news. If my results are good, my husband and I celebrate by eating at the same restaurant for dinner each time when we get home from the hospital. I have a huge cheeseburger and fries, which I don’t eat at any time besides good scan days!

I'm not the only one...

I have spoken with other lung cancer friends and many seem to have superstitions that they have developed as well. Why is this the case? I spent some time thinking about this question recently.

A lung cancer diagnosis comes with a lot of uncertainty and loss of control. In addition to dealing with symptoms of lung cancer and side effects of treatment, we all need to figure out how to live with constant internal questions of “Is my treatment still working?,” “How long will it continue to work?,” and “What will I do next?” By developing superstitions, I believe that we strive to put a little personal control over this uncertainty, which is difficult to handle, especially long term. We may not be able to control the cancer living in our bodies, but at least we can try to avoid bad luck!

Do you have any superstitions?

What do you think? Do you have any new superstitions that you’ve developed since your lung cancer diagnosis?

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