When I was in graduate school, we had the opportunity to attend colloquia every Monday night as part of the Carolina Consortium on Human Development, held at the Frank Porter Graham Center for Child Development, which is part of the University of North Carolina. The “grown ups” were all developmental psychologists. But child clinical psychology students such as myself, not surprisingly took many child development classes. So, from time to time, we showed up.

The exchanges were lively and fast. The debates were spirited without being disrespectful. It was intoxicating. I remember one psychologist was always asking the main presenter, “But what are the underlying causal mechanisms?” For every presentation, that was one of his questions.

Then it was his turn to present. His talk was brilliant but devoid of any talk of causal factors. So I asked him, “But what are the underlying causal mechanisms?” His response was, “I don’t care about why, there is only how.”

I thought the answer was a bit of a brilliant cheat but it really got me thinking. That exchange occurred over 20 years ago and it still has me thinking!

When I was an older child, I used to ask my mother, “What was I like when I was little?” She’d answer, “You laughed and smiled a lot. You asked A LOT of questions.”

I have long been a question asker. I am a curious person. I like to understand things. “What is it?” “How does it work?” “Why is it?”

I came from a more modest background than most of the people in my Ph.D. program. (Pennie was the exception. She was from Mill Creek, West Virginia and her father worked as a coal miner.) I had many moments of self-consciousness and insecurity as a student. But one of the tools I felt was strong and well honed was my ability to ask questions and to think about the possible answers.

In thinking about my cancer, I believe the question I have explored least of all is, “Why did I get cancer?” I learned about the what and how. But once I realized that I did not have any known genetic risk and set up healthy life habits, I dropped the question for the most part. It certainly could come back, especially the “Why me?” grief question. But for now at least, the question is on the back burner, at least from a personal standpoint. (In other words, I have not backburnered my interest in cancer research.)

In the meantime, I am focusing on how I live rather than why I live.