How the Heck Did You Get Cancer?


Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.

After 30 years of marriage, I got a divorce notice and a breast cancer diagnosis almost simultaneously in fall of 2006. I felt like I’d been struck down by two barreling Mack trucks! Life as I knew it shifted on a dime! But I’m not writing about that set of traumas here; they were the initial ones, but not the sustained ones. I couldn’t get enough information for a while, nor a surgery scheduled anytime soon, but found other terrific resources at my local Miami Cancer Support Center (an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community) and a Baptist Bosom Buddies group. The doctors can offer their expertise and recommendations and give statistics if you do this or that therapy. I’m not writing about the lack of information, the immense fear of dying, facing it alone or middle-of-the-night-terrors because those are not sustained years later. Besides, knowing I had a tumor growing (turned out to be two) and I was going to face the surgeries, chemo and second half of my life unmarried, my only option was that of a single mom: survive and rebuild!

There’s much to write about facing surgeries and recovery periods alone and untended in a big, empty house. I’m not writing about the challenges, the unnecessary suffering in and out of the hospital and that we need patient navigators and home care and more follow-up by somebody. I am past that point and yet an advocate when necessary. Lessons learned.

What I really want to say in this short bit is that I scratched my head thinking about how the heck I got cancer when I ate organic, mostly vegetarian foods and drank filtered water. With all that we think we know about the health of the cells, the organs and their needs, how did I end up with cancer? I’m not writing specifics about my subsequent research and the classes I’ve taken to learn about apoptosis of the cancer cells and how hormones work in concert or create cacophony. I didn’t drink nor smoke, though I was certainly a sugar-lover via chocolate. We are often blamed in some part for not having done the right things or that we have abused our bodies in some way. Does this include the stress of raising children as a single parent? My doctor says stress kills. I’m just making mention here. Mindfulness meditation, healing chi kung, yoga had been in my life and still, I had this awful “imbalance!”

I created a useful tool, a downloadable visualization for use during chemo. There is also music on my website. This is my giveback. I was a professional musician until lymphedema flared up.

Years after my diagnosis, when attending a funeral in my home state of Rhode Island, I had a casual chat with an old school mate. She said, “Ya know that dump near your house, the Davis Dump? Well it’s now an EPA toxic Superfund site.”

Red lights and flashing bulbs went off in my brain! My mother and many others on my rural road had died from some form of cancer. Most people remarked that people living on my road experienced more cancer than normal. I called the state attorney’s office to ask about a class action suit, but as there are no records of what the trucks dumped in there, that was the end of it. Maybe the next generations will be able to live there without the silent threat of chemical toxins. My kids did not get to know their grandmother and they have missed much love!

I did not test positive for BRCA1 or 2 and no one in my family besides my mother and myself had cancer; None of them lived up in the rural house with us. Our dug well was our only water supply. Toxic chemicals leak into the ground water.

I may have found a reason, something I could understand at least, to make some sense of how or why I, “Miss Health Nut,” got cancer. It’s a relief that I can whip that “toxic dump” story to anyone who asks if I eat enough roughage or grow organic foods, or compost, or filter my water and use gentle household cleaners. Yes, I still do those things too. They did not protect me entirely from cancer, but as one oncology nurse said, “Imagine how much sicker and less resilient you might have been had you not taken good care of yourself.” Good point!

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