Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Do I Worry About Getting Cancer Again?

I am asked now and then if I ever worry about getting another cancer. I have to say, most of the time, I really don’t. Oh, now and then I will get a little twinge in my rib cage that kind of reminds me of how I found the lymphoma seven years ago. When that happens, I will spend some time thinking about the possibilities, and worrying just a bit. But usually, I don’t think about it. There always seems to be other more pressing things to worry about, in any event.

Certainly there is no hard and fast rule about it, no prohibition of “double jeopardy.” That would be nice: “Hear ye! Hear ye! By decree of the emperor, it is hereby proclaimed to all that any subject who has survived one form of cancer will never be asked to go through this experience again! Let all subjects obediently follow this absolute ruling, under penalty of death!”

But alas, life doesn’t work that way. I know several people who have had multiple cancers. My sister-in-law Christine got breast cancer 20 years ago and ovarian cancer 3 years later. Talk about a double kick in the gut for a young woman, but she survived. My sister Ann got a new cancer while getting her third type of chemo for the first cancer – when that happens, oncologists are pretty sure that the chemo they are using is not going to be very effective. My TNT teammates Ed and Kristi have survived three and two cancers each, respectively. A former co-worker, Linda, survived one cancer and was killed by another about nine years later. Another Linda, a friend I met through First Connection, is on at least her third cancer, maybe her fourth – what a terrible time she has had. And a number of people that I’ve met through blogging are on multiple cancers. I’ve had to tell several folks that they are not getting their names written twice on my race shirt just because they got cancer more than once, so they might as well knock it off.

It seems totally unjust when a child gets cancer or when someone gets a second (or third, or fourth) cancer. Realistically, though, anyone who got cancer once is probably more likely to get it again than the general population is. For one thing, there was a reason they got it the first time: something in their DNA, exposure to some toxin or other environmental factor, stress hormones, immune system problems. For another thing, anyone getting chemotherapy and/or radiation is getting exposed to carcinogens. By example, I was told that by getting ABVD chemotherapy, my likelihood of getting a leukemia downstream would be from 1-3% higher than it would be otherwise. My friend Kristi’s thyroid cancer was almost certainly caused by the radiation that she received years earlier for her lymphoma.

I haven’t met a single person who, having cancer and maybe even getting something positive out of the experience, would volunteer to go through it again. I don’t know if I would want to meet such a person. I know if I had to go through cancer treatments again, I would dread the experience. But I also am not going to worry about something that hasn’t happened and may never happen. For all I know, my health may more at risk from scarfing down a bacon double cheeseburger than I am at risk of another cancer.

I do try to stay aware, eat reasonably well, and get some reasonable exercise. And I know I need to check in with an oncologist – mine retired two and a half years ago and I am way overdue to get a new one and have a baseline checkup. In fact, I am more than a year and a half overdue. I’ll get to it soon! Hmm, seems like I said that like a year ago. OK, I know I have to do it. And I will – right after I go eat a bacon double cheeseburger.

1 comment:

Laura said...

thanks for your blog post. I came across it while googling multiple cancers. My Mom is recently diagnosed with cancer for the fourth time in her life and just learned that she has colon cancer and kidney cancer at the same time. There's definitely someting going on in her body. It was heartening, but so sad, to read your post and learn that she's not alone.