I am going to get cancer.
That’s not a guess or a death wish; it’s an almost-certain fact I live with every day. Of my grandparents, three of them had cancer. It killed two of them. Breast, lung, colon, and a few other cancers climb through my family tree like kudzu. According to the American Cancer Society, just over 11 million Americans have cancer right now. The country’s population hovers at just over 300 million, so that’s about three percent of Americans who are battling defective cells that may or may not kill them.
That may not sound like a lot, but the probability that you or I will get cancer is pretty significant. The American Cancer Society tells me I have a one in eight chance of getting breast cancer. So does any woman reading this column. Add in my myriad of risk factors and the odds skyrocket. As for the men, you have even worse odds: one in six of you will get prostate cancer and half of all men will get cancer in their lifetime. One out of every three women will get some form of cancer as well. Suffice to say, the odds are not good. You have a better chance of winning at craps in Vegas than avoiding knowing someone who has, will have, or has had cancer.
Cheery, huh? I can shovel enough dark green vegetables in my mouth to feed a small country, religiously grope myself in the shower every month as I check for lumps and irregularities, and spend so much time in spinning classes that I don’t even know what my resting heart rate is anymore… and still get cancer. Worse, I can still die from cancer.
When I was young I didn’t care. I figured we all had to go sometime. I smoked menthol cigarettes between courses of fried cheese, hot dogs, and potato skins loaded with bacon, reasoning that since I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, what was the point?
And then people I loved started to die way too young. And I got the point real quick.
I have three aunts. One of them – my godmother – was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 50s. She ate healthy, had no family history of breast cancer, and didn’t smoke. Aside from my own mother, she was the best woman I have ever known.
You know where this is leading, right? She lost her fight with breast cancer a few years after her diagnosis. Sometimes I forget she’s gone. Other times I remember all too well. Her pain, I assume and hope, has ended, but her husband, children, and mother still feel it very keenly.
I have another aunt battling cancer right now, and she’s in her 50s as well. I would do anything to see her beat the cancer. I’m certain her three children – all of whom still live at home – feel the same way.
I’m tired of watching people I love die. I’ve had two bosses killed by cancer, one in her 40s and one in his 50s. I know a few survivors, too, but I’ve known more people who didn’t survive. While I can’t say I loved everyone who died, or even that I was particularly close to them, they all had one thing in common: someone loved them as much as I loved my godmother and grandparents. Someone still thinks about them and forgets – momentarily, at least – that they can’t pick up the phone and hear their voice.
You think that’s lousy? It is. We’re not very good at curing cancer, either. One out of every four American men will die from cancer, as will one out of every five American women. That means that in my circle of friends, one of us- possibly two of us- will die from cancer. Dying doesn’t scare me; I just don’t want to do it. The thought that somebody I love will get cancer and die from it? THAT terrifies me.
For now, there’s not much I can do. If I think about it too much, I’ll go crazy. I neglected to get my MD, so odds are I’m not going to be the one to find a cure.
It’s not uncommon, I’ve read, to feel powerless in the face of a disease as monumental as cancer. Indeed, as each of my relatives succumbed to these fast-growing cells, the only two things they had the power to do were live every moment they could. Then they had the power to die. Those of us left didn’t feel like we had any power at all.
The only thing I can think to do seems so removed from finding a cure, but it’s all I have. I can walk in this spring’s Relay For Life (April 9 and 10). The Gabber is, for the first time ever, sponsoring a team in Gulfport. The writers are walking, taking turns to keep someone on the track all night. We want you to walk, too. If you’ve formed or joined a team already, fantastic. If you don’t have a team but you want to walk, we’d love to have you join us; everyone is welcome. If you’d rather send money, you can. To donate money or join our team, click on the link for Relay For Life on The Gabber’s web site (www.TheGabber.com) and search for our team, aptly named “The Gabber.”
There is no minimum to join; The Gabber’s already taken care of the minimum fundraising amount. We’d love to raise more money, though, because the money goes to the American Cancer Society, a group that funds more cancer research than any other private agency in the United States. They make sure that the money we raise goes to doctors and chemists and anyone else who can help find a cure for cancer.
That cure can’t come fast enough. Preferably in my lifetime, because I don’t care that I’m getting older, but I don’t want to lose anyone else I love.
Contact Cathy Salustri at Cathy@TheGabber.com.
I am going to get cancer.