If You Can Prevent Getting Cancer, DO IT.
As someone currently undergoing treatment for Stage 2 breast cancer, I was very disheartened to read that a recent study shows NEARLY HALF OF ALL CANCER DEATHS ARE DUE TO PREVENTABLE FACTORS.
I put that in caps, because that simply blows my fucking mind.
“Researchers with the American Cancer Society looked at data on cancer incidence and deaths, finding that 42 percent of cancer cases in the United States -– and nearly half of cancer deaths — are linked to preventable risk factors like cigarette smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, excess body weight, alcohol intake and dietary choices.”
Why are you people killing yourselves??
According to a 2015 report by the American Association for Cancer Research:
“Given that cancer is primarily a disease of aging, and that the portion of the U.S. population age 65 and older is expected to double in size by 2060, it is anticipated that the number of new cancer cases diagnosed each year in the United States will increase dramatically. In fact, it is estimated that in 2035, there will be almost 2.4 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States. Also contributing to the projected increase are the continued use of cigarettes by 18 percent of U.S. adults and high rates of obesity and physical inactivity, both of which are linked to an increased risk for several types of cancer.”
Look..I never smoked (although I was exposed to secondhand smoke from my mother). I have always tried to eat well and not become obese like many of my siblings. I don’t eat fast food. I cut out soda ages ago. I feel my diet is relatively healthy.
AND I HAVE BREAST CANCER.
This probably doesn’t even need to be said, but cancer is fucking scary and awful. I’m just in the beginning stages of fighting it, and I’m already tired of doctors, hospitals and getting poked and prodded. On Tuesday I get my right breast, which has been invaded by 2 cancerous tumors, removed. It’s taken me 2 months since my diagnosis to get my medical team in place and decide the right course of action for me. Many women freak out and decide to remove both breasts despite having one untouched by cancer. I decided, for many reasons, to keep my “clear” left breast. I don’t blame people for deciding to get bilateral mastectomies, but I’m also very comfortable and happy with my decision to do a nipple-sparing unilateral with immediate reconstruction.
That’s not to say that the prospect of undergoing surgery and waking up with an implant-filled breast doesn’t scare the shit out of me. This is a catch-22 situation. It’s not as if I could just sit on my thumbs and do NOTHING; that being said, this is the most comfortable SHITTY decision of all shitty decisions I could make.
This past week was mostly spent undergoing my pre-admission tests and my last minute meetings with my breast and plastic surgeons. I really didn’t do much of anything else. Every time I have to see a specialist for this shitty disease, I think about all the much more enjoyable tasks and creative projects I had planned for this fall that have now fallen by the wayside because I have to spend so much of my time focusing on KEEPING MYSELF ALIVE.
Not to mention the expense. Fuck anyone who is okay with the GOP’s attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, btw — Obamacare is keeping me alive and preventing me from going completely broke. HOWEVER, even with insurance, I have to make my co-pays — $60 for every specialist visit. Do you know how many specialists I’ve seen? And on top of dealing with cancer, I’ve had some eye problems and potential symptoms from cervical radiculopathy I got from a car accident a few years ago. Doctors have made a fortune off me lately.
I’ve been putting doctors’ visits on my credit cards, which, of course, isn’t sustainable. So there goes another block of time I could spend doing something more fun — but NO. I probably spent about a few DAYS just investigating financial aid for breast cancer patients and applying for as many grants as I can get.
I’ve spent over $1000 in co-pays, probably more. I’m just throwing all my receipts into a big box labeled “2017 taxes” and deferring even looking at the financial damage. I simply can’t handle that right now — not when I need to muster every ounce of strength to get through surgery and my recovery.
Of course, I am thinking positively — I will beat this yada yada, but always always, when you have cancer, the question of “will this kill me” is in the back of your mind. It’s like an albatross around your neck. Many women in remission are acutely aware of the persistent danger of recurrence or metastasis.
As for what causes cancer — it’s a dangerous gray zone when you start talking about “preventable cancers”, since we don’t really know exactly WHAT prompts a healthy cell to go haywire and start spreading cancer throughout the human body. We do, however, know a lot about risk factors. My mother died of lung cancer at the age of 62. She smoked most of her life, but really tried to quit many times. Sadly, she was finally able to succeed in quitting three years before she got sick. It was very hard watching her die — lung cancer is a terrible, horrible death I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. But what compounded the tragedy was her guilt at realizing she basically killed herself. I remember spending a lot of time during her last days trying to convince her to forgive herself; explaining that she suffered from an addiction that was very hard to break. I don’t know how or if she finally reconciled this internal struggle. I do know that by the end of 8 months of suffering the ravages of cancer’s attack, she was ready to go.
As for my breast cancer, the more research I do, the more I realize how high my risk was. I started my period at an early age. I never had kids. I’m 50 and still haven’t gone through menopause. My cancer is hormone-positive, which means it’s being fed by the female hormones I pump out every time I have a period. I read an article from the 1990s speculating that the rise in breast cancer can be timed with the women’s liberation movement that enabled so many women to either defer having children ‘til a later age, not have as many children, or just decide to not ever reproduce (which was my decision from an early age). Back in the old days, before the proliferation of safe, reliable birth control, women would routinely pop out about 5 or more kids, which meant they spent a good amount of time WITHOUT a period..WITHOUT those crazy hormones that could trigger breast tumors going wild in their bodies.
I realize I probably significantly increased my own risk by my life choices. Do I blame myself? No. Unlike my mom, I had no idea that the decisions I was making were increasing my risk of cancer. I did the best I could to take care of myself with the knowledge I had.
Had I known I was putting myself at risk, I might have done better about getting mammograms and breast MRIs. But..how could I have known? I was never warned.
We also know that environmental factors also play a big role in the increase in all cancers in general in the past century. We’re definitely breathing in, absorbing, and putting a lot more carcinogenic chemicals into and on our bodies. Given the bombardment of cancer-causing chemicals we’re all subjected to, I don’t understand why people want to play Russian roulette with their bodies and do things to increase their cancer risk.
Stop smoking. Stop willingly putting crap into your body. Exercise. Lose weight. It is absolutely true that if you take care of your body, your body will take care of you.
I don’t have any photos of my mother’s last days, but I found this disturbing image of Barb Tarbox, who spent as much time as she could during the end of her life educating people about the dangers of smoking.
That photo was taken 5 days before she died of lung cancer.
Yes, life is short and we all die in the end. But wasting away and in terrible pain from cancer is not a pleasant way to go.
Don’t let this happen to you.
Copyright 2017 S. Wade