What is the difference between innocence and ignorance?

This question is pretty far down on the list, but it’s an issue that’s been prevalent in my recent life. One of my pet peeves in life is having to watch or hear about people who suffer as a result of their own ignorance – claiming selflessness as an excuse. I’m talking specifically about genetic illnesses or predispositions, and I’m going to start this on a personal note.

When I was fifteen years old my mother was diagnosed with late stage two breast cancer. She survived, thankfully, but her treatment was a number of years. In fact, I was in college when I was still visiting her in hospital. I had my own first mammogram before she even finished her treatment – I was eighteen. Some might argue that is radically young, even for someone with a cancer victim in the family, but I disagree. I knew my risks. I went on the pill when I was eighteen, and chose to come off when I was twenty-three because I knew the risks of continued use of hormonal birth control after a certain age.

When I was twenty I found a lump in my left breast and, even though it felt like a cyst, I still went to consult with a doctor to make sure. I could have ignored it, convinced myself it was nothing, and gone about my life. Fortunately, this lump was a simple cyst, something that flares up every month; however, it is something that we (the doctor and I) keep an eye on just in case.

I’ve heard mixed opinions on this topic, especially as I was raised in England where we have a national health system “free healthcare”. I’m going to be honest, when I went in for my cyst several people told me I was overreacting and using up valuable resources for trivial matters – after all, they argue, the odds of it being a cancerous lump were in the 0.00’s, even with my family medical history. What if, they argue, every person that had a cyst went to the doctor – imagine the wasted monetary resources. My argument is this – imagine if all the people that ignored their cancerous lumps went to the doctor when they first noticed them – how much money would we save in treatment costs? And, rather more importantly, how many lives would we save?

Now I’m going to look at someone else that I know, someone that I adore as if they were my own flesh and blood. This person is my parents age, has been of dubious health, and lost both her parents to diabetes. My friend refused to go to the doctor, even for the most uncomfortable thing, claiming to “not want to worry people” or “not be an inconvenience”. Eventually her family forced her to the doctor and she was immediately diagnosed with severe diabetes, her blood sugar levels were out of control. Her long term health has been ruined.

Everyone that knows her argues that she was a victim to her own selflessness, that she simply didn’t think it could be diabetes. I look at it differently – I think she acted out of fear, but also out of ignorance. She ignored the facts, ignored the symptoms, and ignored the risks. Even though she is in her sixties, she had never once had her vitals measured. She was not innocent in this case. Innocence is my good friend Suzann’s baby, Keyra, who was born to a diabetic mother. She is likely to develop diabetes at some time in her life – but when she asks for apple sauce or some other high-sugar treat, she is truly innocent of the risk to her. Of course, she is only one year old. If at sixteen (and after sixteen years of watching her mother inject insulin twice a day), she still demanded sugar, then she would be ignorant.

I know that people will disagree with me, or think I am being too harsh on these people – I don’t mean to sound cruel. My point is that as human beings we are the most informed that we have ever been – we have medical journals available on our smartphones, we have 24 hour numbers to call, we have decades and decades of medical knowledge and history helping us pre-empt our medical pitfalls. There is no excuse to be uninformed, to be ignorant, of our bodies. We owe our genetics a debt of life – we have the potential to life longer than any other generation, but we shrug off our bad choices saying we didn’t have the calorie count, and are allowing sticking our heads in the proverbial sand.

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