I was watching the Bake Off’s special editions for Stand Up 2 Cancer and they kept saying one in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime. 1 in 2! I feel this is huge! Every other person! If it not me it is you, my best friend, my siblings, my nieces, my nephew – I find it hard to process this.
Cancer is this horrid word which encompasses so many different types, severities and survival rates. My mind went straight to 1 in 2 people dying of cancer. But that is not what this statistic is saying. The Stand Up 2 Cancer website actually says that 2 in 4 survive their cancer and hopefully by 2034 this will be 3 in 4.
Also, I feel I should know better, my own mother is living with cancer and has been for about a decade. She has ovarian cancer. I remember going to see the doctor with her when the results from the biopsies from her hysterectomy were back. The hospital had called and wanted her in first thing the next day, my mum asked if it could be later in the day to miss rush hour traffic. Oh the naivety, she had no idea that if the consultant secretary rings and wants an appointment first thing the next day that it is probably not great news.
The words Stage 3 were followed by surgery and chemotherapy. The cancer had spread to the lining of her abdominal organs. However they did say of all the ovarian cancers mum had the best and rarest. Why? It was slow-growing. The best of all the evils. And she had probably had it growing in her for a decade before it was discovered. Her many years of womanly problems now explained.
After 5 years it was back and resulted in more abdominal surgery. However complications with infections in her bladder meant she could not have chemotherapy. They gave her medication to stop the hormone production which was feeding her cancer. It seems to be working, they say she is their best case-study. Either shrinking or staying the same her cancer is confined to her abdomen and seems to be under control.
That word ‘cancer’ is so scary though. I think I have assumed for many years I would get it at some point. My dad’s parents died of cancer; Granddad of prostate and Nan of pancreatic. My mum has it and with one in two getting it I think it is becoming more likely.
But getting it does not mean dying from it. There is a lot more treatments these days and more research being done. Survival rates are growing and more people can live with it. I remember explaining this to my own father after my mum’s initial diagnosis. Understandably all he could hear when he heard cancer was death, it is all he knew as both his parents had died of it.
As a history teacher I sometimes wonder how many people died of cancer but no one knew that is what it was. Though history there would have been no reason or not enough understanding to do an autopsy In medieval times it was discouraged by the Church. Yet death records, like this one from during the 1665 Great Plague show ‘cancer’ listed as the reason so they understood something. But then it also lists ‘suddenly’ as a reason.
The American Cancer Society write that the earliest descriptions date back to the Egyptians and it is believed that humans have suffered with cancer since we first existed (Cancer.org). So why does it scare me? I am not normally worried about ill-health; I have fibromyalgia, I have had three surgeries, migraines and mental health issues. I have suffered pain and trauma. Yet maybe it is the unpredictability and the higher chances of dying of it than the illnesses I have had so far.
I do not feel I fear death and yet I have so much I wish to do. I do not feel I am done with this life. Maybe it is a fear of missing out on this life? It is so hard to know and yet I get anxious thinking about cancer. I wonder if it is the control freak in me unable to stop my cells going out of control and developing abnormally leading to cancer. Yet I am now vegan which claims to help reduce cancer, although it is so hard to know the truth and I still feel it might not save me.
Save me! From something I do not even have and might not get. I tell myself you can only worry about what is here and now. Yet I worry about cancer. My cousin had leukaemia and he was 12 years old. My friends brother died of having a low immune system after lukaemia aged 21. I am not sure I have a story for 1 in 2 but everyone has more and more stories of people with cancer.
I remember going to the wards with my mum and them always being crowded and filled with so many patients at various stages of treatment. I remember my mother confiding in me that she was scared she might die. Facing our own mortality is not easy. How many of us will die of old age in our own beds. Is this even possible anymore?
When my mum was going through all this she told me she never expected to grow old. She is still only 57 years old now and was in her 40s when she was diagnosed. She worried about never seeing us (her children) get married, have children and be happy. She has fulfilled some of this with my brother now married with children and my sister living with her boyfriend. And I am happy even if she can not see how as I am not in a relationship (issue for another time).
However maybe I have taken on this belief. Will I grow old? Retire? Withdraw on my pension? It is hard to imagine but I think my belief goes beyond that to I am not sure I am destined to be old. I have never been lucky with my health and so I feel the odds are never in my favour (small link to the Hunger Games).
I have no answers and no predictions. No epiphany or vision of my future. I do live each day as it comes and maybe it is also why I cannot see a future. There is so much more work to be done; research and treatments which is helped by the Stand Up 2 Cancer campaign. I will be donating and hope you do to.
I felt I needed to get these worries out of my head and into this mental world.