My journey to shoot for the moon.

Cancer Sucks.

In the past two weeks, I’ve had a cousin and a childhood friend diagnosed with cancer.  I’ve also learned that a woman, who attended CLIMB (Children Living In Moments of Bravery sponsored by The Children’s Treehouse Foundation) at University of Colorado Hospital with us, has had her breast cancer (which was in remission) return with a vengeance and it is spreading throughout her body.  This lady, Tracy, has 3 young daughters.  Her breast cancer was diagnosed at Stage III and she had a double mastectomy and reconstruction.  The boys and I met Tracy and her girls when we attended the CLIMB support group in December of 2009.

CLIMB is a support group that meets one night a week for 4 consecutive weeks at the University of Colorado Hospital.  First, we would eat dinner and visit.  Then the adults (both cancer patients and caregivers) would leave and go to meet with a social worker as a group.  The kids would remain and do activities with the other social workers and volunteers.  There were about 2 adults for ever 3-4 kids so there was a lot of support.  The adults would discuss the impact of cancer on the kids, how the kids were coping, how cancer changed relationships and what we needed to help us with our kids.  It was great support and a number of us got together after the group was officially over, but since I was the only caregiver that was a woman, I didn’t think that I was getting the kind of support that I needed at the time.

My cousin is a bit younger than me.   He grew up in Michigan while I was in Illinois.  He is an Associate Professor in Massachusetts.  I’m not quite sure what he does – we aren’t close – but he is my cousin and I feel his pain.  His cancer was found “accidentally”  he was feeling fine and went in for a scan for something totally unrelated.

My childhood friend has 4 kids – the youngest being a toddler – two of her kids have CF (cystic fibrosis) and I am just blown away.   Her cancer is on her tongue and they hope that they will be able to remove all of it through surgery.  But the chances of her even having cancer were so small. . . she wasn’t in any risk group.  I found out about her cancer while reading her blog and she questions if it was pesticides on her food that have caused her cancer.  How horrible is it to think that something you did (like eating fruit) has caused your cancer!  Like anyone would do this to themselves and choose to have cancer!  But I understand the thought.  When I was diagnosed with pneumonia, I wondered if it was cancer.   I think that it is normal to be concerned.  Cancer Sucks!

Then there is my husband who has Lung Cancer.  Who was not in a risk group, whose cancer might not have even been found if he hadn’t gone for x-rays (you can read about this in previous posts).

Cancer Sucks.  It is a horrible, awful disease that seems to be impacting more and more lives.  In a previous post, I vented about the statistics of Lung Cancer.  In this post, I am going to speculate about cancer and why it is impacting so many more lives.  I want to stress, that this is my opinion and may not be based in fact at all.  I am not going to spend time doing the research to back up my opinion – I am speculating and venting about cancer.  This is purely my opinion and my thoughts.

When our ancestors lived, their life-spans were much shorter.   People had children at much younger ages, they were grandparents sooner and they died at an age we would consider to be middle-aged (or younger).   They could die from a lot of things that modern medicine can prevent.  If you cut yourself back then and got an infection, there was a good chance you would die.  Infections can be treated today with antibiotics, and while some infections can kill, the chances are much less than they were with our ancestors.  Such was their lives.

Since their life-spans were shorter, they may not have  lived long enough to know that they had cancer.  Granted, there was no diagnosing of cancer without modern medicine, but if there were cancerous cells in their bodies, they didn’t know about them and likely died from something else before the cancer killed them.  It is my understanding, from my brother (the pulmomologist at University of Michigan), that a large number of people have cancerous cells in their colon.  When the cells are slow-growing, as he explained, they usually don’t cause problems (until they grow to be tumors).  Generally, something else would kill the person before the colon cancer.  This is for slow-growing cancer cells (not a tumor) in the colon.  Of course, I will admit that I may have misunderstood him – but it is my feeling that this might have been the way it was in the past:  people had slow-growing cancer cells and died before they were killed by the cancer.

I believe that cancer is more prevalent in our society because we have the technology to detect it while there is time to treat it.  I believe we are, as a society, responsible for the toxins that have entered our water, soil, air and then ultimately our bodies that are carcinogens.  As a world, we have traded our health for profit.  We have been destroying ourselves, by destroying our environment.

I am as guilty as I suggest everyone else is.  While I haven’t consciously polluted our environment with toxins, I have used products that do.  I have consumed products that create carcinogens as a by-product.  And I continue to do so, like most of our society.  Change is difficult and our entire society including our economy would need to change to have any noticeable impact on the environment.  I don’t think that is likely to happen.

But, here is a thought.  What if, cancer is not the result of our actions as a whole?  What if, not getting cancer is a new evolutionary stage?  What if there is a resistance to cancer that is developing in the genes of some people and not others and we just don’t know it yet?  What if, in the future, no one gets cancer because the “cancer-getting genes” have been eliminated through evolution?  What if modern medicine, by allowing people to be cured of cancer, has just postponed something that will eventually happen?  What if cancer is our own fault for our technological advances that can detect cancer and cure it, but not totally eliminate it from the population?  What if this evolutionary change is happening at a very slow rate and we can’t detect it because we are too close to it?  What if it is obvious in 200 years?

It is believed that some people have a genetic disposition towards getting certain cancers based upon family history.  What if that genetic disposition along with exposure to certain environmental toxins causes a huge increase in the likelihood of getting cancer?  What if treatment for diabetes, heart disease, influenza, infections, and other “common ailments” have resulted in people living longer and increasing their chances of getting cancer?

Cancer Sucks!  But what if we are the cause, just not in the way that most of us believe?

It is difficult to think that cancer is part of an evolutionary process.  It is difficult to think that we, as a whole, have caused cancer by our actions.  My thoughts are probably not going to be popular ones, but please keep reading.  NO ONE deserves to get cancer any more than they deserve to be hit by a car or shot in the head.  In fact, we probably have more control over if we get hit by a car or shot in the head than we have control over if we get cancer.  There is no individual blame to go around – it is societal blame.  And cancer is awful and no one, not one single person, deserves to suffer through or because of cancer.

Truly, there should be no second guessing by the person who is diagnosed with cancer; no what if’s.  That is because not everyone who is exposed to toxins or has a genetic disposition gets cancer.  Has science concluded that there is a direct correlation that is 100% between anything and cancer?  I don’t really know – but there are always variables.  We know that there are some things that cause cancer, but again, is it 100%?  We know that smoking causes lung cancer, but not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer.  And some people who don’t smoke do.  As far as cancer is concerned, nothing is certain and cancer (as my brother says) does what it wants and doesn’t follow rules.

So, what is a person to do?  Do we worry about everything?  I’d like to think that isn’t an answer, but for some people it is reality.  Do we bury our heads in the sand and refuse to face cancer?  That results in almost certain death.  Do we change what we can to reduce our risk of getting cancer?  That seems reasonable, but we cannot go overboard, no extremes.  Scientists have been wrong and have made mistakes.  Do we take care of ourselves and our families to the best of our abilities?  Of course.

Cancer Sucks!  and there is not much that we have control over when it comes to cancer.  We need to face it head on and do what we can.  We need to find the strength to get out of bed in the morning and face life and support those who we care about who have cancer.  And we need to hope that science and medicine figures out how to eliminate cancer completely.

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