I’m terrified of that word. The C word. CANCER. Because I feel like it’s chasing me and if I don’t keep moving it might sneak up and catch me when I’m not looking. At least that’s how it always seems to work.
You probably have stories too. The farm queen who died of lung cancer at the age of 22. The beautiful blond co-worker who died of skin cancer at the age of 28. The friend of a friend who left two small children at home when she died of ovarian cancer. The inspiring astrophysicist who documented her battle and eventual loss to metastatic breast cancer. And most recently, a loving dad blogger who announced his diagnosis of lung cancer and died a year later.
I’m terrified because I wonder how many of these people had an inkling of cancer floating through their bodies while they lived a normal life – making dinner, bathing the kids, complaining about the laundry. All the while, the cancer was growing inside of them and they were none the wiser.
What if that’s me, right now? What if I’m a walking time bomb just waiting for that C word to present itself at a point where it’s just too late? When will it be my turn?
I’m terrified because I don’t want that to be me and it frightens me to know that I might not be able to do anything about it.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, they say. And I don’t take those words lightly. I have a mammogram every year. I go for the dreaded gynecology exam where I endure a Pap smear. I get my bloodwork done regularly and I’m certainly conscious of eating right and exercising (whether I do it or not is another story).
But it’s not enough. Take lung cancer, for example. Did you know that “most lung cancers do not cause any symptoms until they have spread too far to be cured” according to the American Cancer Society? I grew up in the 1970s where smoking was the social norm. You smoked in restaurants, in the mall, in the grocery store, and even in your parents car with most of the windows up. I never smoked but I was constantly surrounded by it until I finally left home at the age of 17.
And even more alarming are the homes in my neighborhood that have recently sold and failed their radon tests. So I casually mentioned to my husband that we should test our radon as well. Sure enough, our home, along with many others in the neighborhood, have high levels of radon. It’s a naturally occurring colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. And what harm does it cause? Repeated exposure can lead to lung cancer.
Those are just the obvious risks. There are so many other hidden ones, like pesticides in our yards and on our food. Or carcinogens in consumer products we use on a daily basis, like makeup, laundry detergent, toothpaste, and so many more depending on which website you read and believe.
I’m not trying to sound like a paranoid alarmist. I get aches and pains, like you, and go to WebMD, like you, and diagnose myself with some rare cancer, like you. Until I realize that the internet is not the best diagnostic tool. If I’m really worried, I will take myself to the doctor. But most of the time I’m simply that person just living my life not thinking about that “cloud of impending mortality” that’s floating over us.
Sometimes I do worry about myself, my family, and my pets. It’s a scary world we live in. But what good does worry do? It probably causes a chemical reaction to my stress which in turn could increase my likelihood for cancer. But we’re all terminal, aren’t we? Everyone has an end whether we want one or not. I guess the trick is to make sure that when that end comes, you’ve gotten out of life what you put into it.
To all my friends who have faced and fought cancer, you are my inspiration. And if, for some reason, that battleground wasn’t yours in victory, know that your bravery and experience are also my inspiration.