The Unthinkable

[A friend of mine, a mother of two young children, had a serious, scary breast cancer. I asked her to write a post for me about having cancer, so she wrote two. Here's the first one. The second one will go up next Friday. If you'd like to read more from her, check out her blog Dance With The Reaper.]

My friend Moxie asked me to write a guest post on breast cancer for her blog.  I'm unfortunately well qualified, since I am a two-year survivor of Stage IIIC inoperable Grade 3 triple negative invasive
ductal carcinoma of the left breast with involvement of the supraclavicular and inframammary lymph nodes.  If you google that, you will see how bad my prognosis was.  It's better now.  My current
prognosis is that of most breast cancer patients.

Getting a cancer diagnosis plunges you into the certainty of chaos. You can't control whether you get cancer.  The reality is that no one knows why some women get breast cancer and some women don't.  There are some long term epidemiological studies correlating certain risk factors to an increased occurrence of cancer, but you can do all the wrong things and never get cancer, or you can do everything right, as I did, and still get it.  That being said, there are some things you can do to lower your cancer risk.  These are all good ideas anyway, with or without the specter of cancer.

Get enough sleep.  Go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time every day.  It boosts your immune system.  Plus, you look and feel better.

Exercise.  Aim for at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week.  Not only has this been shown to lower your risk of getting many different kinds of cancer, but it also improves your overall
health, mental and physical.

Eat healthy food.  Most importantly, eat plenty of leafy green vegetables and whole grains, and avoid processed foods and hydrogenated fats.  There is a bulletin I picked up in the waiting room at M.D. Anderson that says "People with cancer should not eat trans fats."  I don't think anyone should eat trans fats.

Maintain a healthy weight.  If you do all of the above, this becomes less of a challenge.

Seek inner peace.  Pray.  Sing,  Meditate.  Do whatever works for you to keep the tangles out of your mind.

Do a monthly breast self-exam. I did, and now I can say that I saved my own life.  How empowering is that!

Don't smoke, and don't spend time around people who do.  Seriously.

Drink moderately, or not at all.  There are some compelling studies linking drunkenness to breast cancer.  I personally think that cancer is one of the least likely consequences of habitual overindulgence of alcohol.  Drink less, and if that is a challenge for you, then seek out a support group.

Of course, you can practice all of these healthful habits, like me, and still come down with a case of cancer that generally kills 90% of the women who have it within two years.  But if that happens, you
won't be consumed with regret and guilt over all those Ho-Ho's or Fritos or nicotine, or whatever trash you put into your body.

Recently, a close friend of mine who just finished treatment for ovarian cancer, was over at my house drinking coffee.  "What did I do wrong," she lamented, "What sin did I commit to have this happen to
me?"

"Stop thinking like that," I said to her.  "Dogs get cancer.  Horses get cancer.  Sharks, I hear, do not get cancer.  It's nothing you did or didn't do.  It's just bad luck."

We all want to think that we can do, or not do, something to control our lives, but it's a myth, and hanging on to the belief that we can control whether we get cancer by our actions is magical thinking.  The bottom line is:  don't ruin your life worrying about "what if I get cancer."  You probably won't.  You should practice good health habits because it's a good idea.  And, if you do get cancer, it's not your
fault, so don't blame yourself.  It doesn't help.