Thursday, July 16, 2009

Did I Give Myself Cancer?

(Okay, I did say that I wasn’t going to post anything until next week. But I just drank a lot of coffee. So...)

Just about every patient tortures themselves with the above question. It’s very silly on one level, as the deed (if there was one) is done. And too, because many cancers defy the “why” question. But the diagnosis does shock introspection into you like one of those freaky movie close-ups where the camera pulls in on your stunned face and the background stretches out all wonky. Everyone, at some point in their life, wonders about what will kill them, when and how. And cancer, the ol’ joker, is happy to pop out from behind a tree and say, Hey! Might be me!

So here I am, tramping down the well-worn path of clichés all cancer peeps travel. And currently I’m researching causes as well as prevention. Here are some breast cancer risks; I’ve blundered into most of them:

• Did not bear children or had children later than twenties
• Did not breastfeed
• Took birth control pills (for endometriosis, for those of you confused)
• Ate a lot of beef, pork, cured meats, charbroiled meat
• Smoked and drank alcohol
• Wore tight bras
• Frequent periods
• Family history
• Exposure to pesticides

I still don’t think I would have given birth knowing that I would get cancer if I didn’t. But I probably would have stepped up to the plate if Cheryl could not have had the kids. When it comes to breastfeeding, I have to konk myself on the head for that one. We had twins after all! I could have done lactation, but did not opt to do it cause it kinda wigged me out. Grow. Up. Jeez. My periods are frequent too. Chemo will put an end to that.

Okay, I did smoke off and on in my twenties. But, it was cool, and everyone else was doing it, and—dumb-de-dumb-dumb-dumb. As for alcohol, studies show it is jet fuel for estrogen-based cancers. And I do loves me some cheap chardonnay. Oh, how I will miss my two-buck chuck. I stopped eating truckloads of fatty hoofed creatures a while ago, but apparently (like sun damage), junk you consumed in your youth adds up.

The bra thing is still being argued. 34D isn’t ginormous but it is a hassle when you’re not a big boned gal. I strapped those babies down in a sports bra every chance I got, even to bed, in hopes that it would somehow firm them up. But some doctors say that your boobs need to go all free-range so that your lymph glands can clear, plus the muscles will grow stronger that way. Who knows?

There is a smattering of cancers on both sides of my large extended family, but only a couple breast cancers later in life. Still, it does not mean that I don’t have the breast cancer gene. My mother had children at a young age but I’m still keeping an eye on her!

Pesticides? C’mon, we live in the Midwest! Still, it’s organic products as much as possible from here on out.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not “blaming the victim” in some depressive state. I’m simply waking up to a few things. Probably what everyone has to do before they move on. Basically, risky behavior can trigger cell changes if your DNA is prone to it. Clearly, mine was. How many stories have we heard of smokestack alchoholics living into their nineties? Conversely, how many times have we seen athletes’ or vegetarians’ lives snuffed out inexplicably. Right now, I’m focused on awareness of what my family is putting in their bodies. This week has been a good week and I will be able to go into chemo in a very healthy state.

And finally, let me clear something up. The 1 in 7 women thing? I recently learned that is over the course of a 90 YEAR LIFESPAN. The younger you are, the less your risk.

• From birth to age 39, your risk is 1 in 229.
• From age 40 to 59, your risk is 1 in 24.
• From age 60 to 79, your risk is 1 in 13.

The 1 in 7 number is used to facilitate mammograms. For good reason. But there are other cancers that arguably need as much if not more attention than breast cancer does.

But that’s a whole nother post.


Jonathan Odell said...

Did you give yourself cancer? I guess that question is inevitable. I don't know. But, boy did you get me to thinking. Like, how much has happened to me in my life vs. how much I have happened to my life!

You know, I'm not so sure I even believe in cause and effect anymore. It works fine when you are talking billiards or ten-car pile-ups, but in matters of love and life and soul and hope and all those other unfathomable four-letter words, explanations generated by linear thinking always fall short. A causes B and B causes C. And C can be Cancer or Catastrophe or any other Circumstance.

For instance, I used to think that the past determined my future. That a life was nothing but the sum total of all moments, all the A's and B's and C's that had passed before. Some were negatives and some were positives and you hoped in the end, when you added them all together, you came out in the black.

But now I see just as much evidence for it being the other way around. That perhaps our future determines our past. That the past is not just a dead collection of causes that give rise to future effects. Perhaps the past is a living thing, whose nature can continually be re-birthed and transformed by our future, wiser selves. Perhaps nothing is final. And therefore nothing is finally good or bad, comic or tragic, failure or success. What would that mean if every moment we had ever lived could be redeemed and transformed? I guess the hardest thing would be for the part of ourselves that exists in the "present" to surrender and let go of the need to judge, blame, or to feel deserving or undeserving.

God, thinking this much hurts my poor Southern-Baptist-fundamentalist-reared brain. What would Jerry Falwell say?

C.M. Harris said...

Interesting thoughts, Jon. I like your perspective. I guess it all comes back to the "letting go" aspect, doesn't it? Because we can't very well change are past and we're never sure if we are determining our future.

Ken Harrison said...

So 1 in 7 is only if you're 90 years old?

C.M. Harris said...

Ya see, I never quite explain this right. Okay, it means that in the course of a ninety-year lifetime 1 in 7 women will get breast cancer. So the odds aren't as horrible as are portrayed.