Catching Cancer

Started by Leida, May 16, 2015
3 replies for this topic
Leida

Member
558 Posts
Posted on
May 16, 2015
When I came out with my diagnosis of breast cancer, I received an incredible number of supportive comments and some interesting ones.

The most interesting question: How did I get cancer?

My answer: "I don't know. My boobs never smoked." I then added, "Maybe they hung out with bad company."

I did wonder though, if there was something I did. Was it my heavy drinking (thank you Alcoholics Anonymous for helping with that)? Was it the fact that I'm overweight (I prefer to say pleasantly plump)? Was it the fact that I've never had children?

Bingo. That's part of it. I found great answers from a book called Breast Cancer: Real Questions, Real Answers by David Chan, MD, from UCLA, who has been treating patients with breast cancer for 40 years. (By the way, I would recommend this book to anyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer — the book takes you through the process and all the questions in a plain, readable and incredibly helpful way).

Here's what Dr. Chan has to say:
  • Industrialized countries have the highest incidence of breast cancer in the world
  • Research has shown that this is due to the fact that young 'uns in these countries get higher calorie, higher nutrition diets so young girls enter puberty sooner
  • Women in industrialized countries put off having children longer and tend not to breast feed their babies as much or for as long
  • This means that the breast tissue of women in these countries are more exposed to estrogen and progesterone, one of the key growers of breast cancer
  • Obesity and drinking can be a factor (the fat in women's bodies produces more of those hormones), but compared to the where-you-live question, these factors are fairly minor.
But as I said, these are only some of the factors. Early in 2015, the good scientists from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center released research they call the Bad Luck of Random Mutations, describing a statistical model they created measuring the proportion of cancer risk, across many tissue types, caused mainly by random mutations that occur when stem cells divide. By this measure, they concluded that two-thirds of the variation in adult cancer risk across tissues can be explained primarily by “bad luck,” when these random mutations occur in genes that can drive cancer growth. The remaining third of the risk is due to the environmental factors we talked about above and inherited genes.

So catching cancer is no one's fault. When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1995, and was convinced I'd done something wrong to get cancer, my gynecologist's reply was simple and to the point: "Sh*t happens."

The guilt immediately lifted from my shoulders, and I was able to get down to the business of dealing with the cancer. It is the same with the breast cancer. To paraphrase that gynecologist, stuff happens. So, no, I did nothing to 'catch' cancer. It just happened because of pure, dumb, bad luck. I tell my doctors that I am ducking and dodging death; that is all I can do. Guilt and blame will add nothing to this situation, and may make it worse.

So to all you out there who think you can catch cancer, you can't. Sure, you can decrease some risk factors by eating healthy, exercising and nursing your babies. And you can be aware of any family predisposition to cancer.  But as the smart doctors of Johns Hopkins have shown, living life itself is a cancer risk factor. Instead of worrying about 'catching' cancer, go out and live your life. Meanwhile, I'll be here — ducking and dodging death, praying that the good luck of my cancer responding to treatment holds out. Because, really, in the end it's all about good luck and good medical care.
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Susan Fariss

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
May 16, 2015
When I came out with my diagnosis of breast cancer, I received an incredible number of supportive comments and some interesting ones.

The most interesting question: How did I get cancer?

My answer: "I don't know. My boobs never smoked." I then added, "Maybe they hung out with bad company."

I did wonder though, if there was something I did. Was it my heavy drinking (thank you Alcoholics Anonymous for helping with that)? Was it the fact that I'm overweight (I prefer to say pleasantly plump)? Was it the fact that I've never had children?

Bingo. That's part of it. I found great answers from a book called Breast Cancer: Real Questions, Real Answers by David Chan, MD, from UCLA, who has been treating patients with breast cancer for 40 years. (By the way, I would recommend this book to anyone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer — the book takes you through the process and all the questions in a plain, readable and incredibly helpful way).

Here's what Dr. Chan has to say:
  • Industrialized countries have the highest incidence of breast cancer in the world
  • Research has shown that this is due to the fact that young 'uns in these countries get higher calorie, higher nutrition diets so young girls enter puberty sooner
  • Women in industrialized countries put off having children longer and tend not to breast feed their babies as much or for as long
  • This means that the breast tissue of women in these countries are more exposed to estrogen and progesterone, one of the key growers of breast cancer
  • Obesity and drinking can be a factor (the fat in women's bodies produces more of those hormones), but compared to the where-you-live question, these factors are fairly minor.
But as I said, these are only some of the factors. Early in 2015, the good scientists from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center released research they call the Bad Luck of Random Mutations, describing a statistical model they created measuring the proportion of cancer risk, across many tissue types, caused mainly by random mutations that occur when stem cells divide. By this measure, they concluded that two-thirds of the variation in adult cancer risk across tissues can be explained primarily by “bad luck,” when these random mutations occur in genes that can drive cancer growth. The remaining third of the risk is due to the environmental factors we talked about above and inherited genes.

So catching cancer is no one's fault. When I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1995, and was convinced I'd done something wrong to get cancer, my gynecologist's reply was simple and to the point: "Sh*t happens."

The guilt immediately lifted from my shoulders, and I was able to get down to the business of dealing with the cancer. It is the same with the breast cancer. To paraphrase that gynecologist, stuff happens. So, no, I did nothing to 'catch' cancer. It just happened because of pure, dumb, bad luck. I tell my doctors that I am ducking and dodging death; that is all I can do. Guilt and blame will add nothing to this situation, and may make it worse.

So to all you out there who think you can catch cancer, you can't. Sure, you can decrease some risk factors by eating healthy, exercising and nursing your babies. And you can be aware of any family predisposition to cancer.  But as the smart doctors of Johns Hopkins have shown, living life itself is a cancer risk factor. Instead of worrying about 'catching' cancer, go out and live your life. Meanwhile, I'll be here — ducking and dodging death, praying that the good luck of my cancer responding to treatment holds out. Because, really, in the end it's all about good luck and good medical care.
Report
RA

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
June 27, 2015
I had dense breast. Mammograms were agonizing. I pleaded and beg for another type of screening to be done. They would not listen. If the doctors had to go through that kind of pain, they would have found an alternative. I finally made a deal with myself, I would have the mammogram and then not have another for 3 years. When they called me back, I would not go. Then I started feeling inconsistent pain that moved around including the nipples on both sides. I gave in and went back for a diagnostic mammogram. They was still not for sure, but suggested a core biopsy because of the suspicious microcalcifications. With 22-24 biopsy specimens they got invasive ductal carcinoma. The MRI showed the size of 4 X 7 cm on the right side. Later, the breast biopsy would show many islands of invasive ductal carcinoma in a mass of ductal carcinoma in situ on the right side. (Pathology only takes the largest one---not the total size of all.) I estimate that the left side was about 5 years behind the right. If I had an ultrasound for the cyst, it would have ended up with a biopsy without all that pain of the mammogram twice. The MRI picked up on the size. They would have confirmed the MRI with a biopsy and caught it a lot sooner. I knew what needed to be done so I had the bilateral mastectomy. I did not count on the nerve pain across the chest and around the arm and the decrease range of motion in my shoulder, or the cording. When the positive sentinel biopsy was three out of three, I knew that I had to have chemotherapy and radiation. Since I was comparatively young, it called for the most aggressive chemotherapy. Rather it is related or not, I am now menopause with hot flashes, I have sleep apnea, I had joint pain and have nerve pain, I have acid reflux, and I had recurring pneumonia. I also cannot urinate in a straight line where it should go and there is spraying. I was told that I needed the hormone blockers, CPAP, 5-6 meds for asthma/pneumonia, and meds for acid reflux. I had 2 hip surgeries. I had about 6 months of physical therapy for the shoulder and hips. About the time of radiation, I lost my job after 25 years of service. When I finally finished the radiation and physical therapy for the shoulder, my plan was to finish the procedures and treatment and then go back to work. I would fall apart emotionally when reconstruction or new job was mention. I do not have the classic signs of depression. I call it grief; they call it depression. The anniversary of the diagnosis was extremely had on me. For the first time, I considered seeing a counselor. I felt like I was losing control. I finally asked the counselor about the diagnosis. It was Moderate Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety and Depression involving grief, loss, and medical trauma. She also said the post-traumatic stress was accumulative. Where I use to have a nipple, there was a port. The doctor will never know how much that bothered me. Now there is nothing, but a double scar. I am now moving into anger and resentment. I am sick and tired of people telling what to do, when to do it, and how. I want control of my life back. I am tired of taking all the medicine. I am upset and resentful that they would not let me do another annual screening exam since I have dense breast. Some day that will change, but it is too late for me. I am tired of every cancer organization and facility asking me for donations. After I thought I was healed from double pneumonia, I discover 3 months later that I still had pneumonia, but I felt great. Two months after that, the x-ray was normal and CT was 98% better. I now couldn't breathe but they were telling me I was better. They put me on antibiotics for the summer. Then the sputum report grew out Penicillium and Mycobacterium Avian Complex. I don't have the energy and I still get out breathe easy. However, the doctors told me the other day that I was fine, but continue taking the antibiotic and 3 inhalers. It is frustrating when doctors will not listen. I never really had anxiety until now. My stress tolerance is almost gone. I have mistrust of doctors since I found out one kept calling it a normal chest x-ray when it was not. We do not allow ourselves enough time. I was planning on going back to work after the surgery and chemo, but the doctors would not let me. I now agree even though I lost my job since I could not work and do the radiation treatments at the same time because of the hours. The sad part is that I am really still not ready for work. However, I want to find a new job as soon as I finish the first reconstruction surgery. I am now a year out from end of chemotherapy. I don't see myself as a survivor, but a fighter. It is fight every day. Could have this been all prevented by allowing an ultrasound or MRI as screening? I think so. Thank you for the articles. We finally have someone we can relate to and not feel like we are going crazy.
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Susan Fariss

Member
0 Replies
Posted on
June 27, 2015
Oh, RA, I am so sorry for what you have gone through. Hoping things get better for you soon. Know how you feel about work. There's a great organization called Cancer & Careers with really helpful resources on working. http://www.cancerandcareers.org Keep up with advocating for yourself. Thinking of you
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