Seven 'Sure' Ways to Get Cancer

One cancer survivor looks at all the ways they might have gotten cancer, and wonders if any of those risk factors will factor into recurrence.

Being a six-year pancreatic cancer survivor when many don’t see two, I often think crazy things, like what did I do to get this cancer? Or if I wanted to get cancer, what would I do? Yes, I know this is crazy thinking, but I think there’s something to it. After all, what to do is akin to what not to do.

So, what would someone do to get cancer?

Use tobacco. Both my parents smoked packs a day. My brother chews. One of my best friends chain-smoked. I used to tell him, “Dennis, this is going to kill you.” He laughed. It did. Lost to esophageal cancer. Given those ominous Surgeon General’s Warnings, all caps and bolded, along with horrendous TV infomercials, I am mystified why people still use tobacco, but they do. Nicotine addiction is an awful thing.

Being overweight. Ok, this one is closer to home. Before getting pancreatic cancer, I had been a big guy. Not blimp-sized mind you but carrying pounds I didn’t need. Post-surgery, I lost a third of my body weight, about 100 pounds. I have no butt. Yes, I can now wear those skinny jeans. Also, due to being replumbed, I can’t even gain weight. Still, I wouldn’t recommend my weight loss program to anyone. It’s barbaric.

Getting too much sun. Growing up I plowed our orchard in my cutoffs with no shirt. By the end of summer, I was toasted brown. Looking back, I hope the layer of dirt shielded me from getting too many rays. Excess UV light is known to cause skin cancer. So far so good. I don’t have any skin lesions yet.

Exposure to bad stuff. It seems everything I buy anymore comes with a warning such-and-such may cause cancer. I do pay attention but find myself unable to avoid exposure to everything that might be bad for me. At this point, I think breathing causes cancer. Should I stop breathing?

Breathing asbestos. I’m a goner here too. As a former Navy-guy, I worked down in the boiler room. Hot as hell right there among gigantic steam pipes all encased in asbestos. Thankfully, so far, I have nothing other than a persistent cough and no lung cancer.

Worse draw an inside straight. (Also known as a gutshot or belly buster draw, where you have a straight but are missing the card in the middle.) While I don’t play poker, getting cancer is a lot like drawing an inside straight. Our genes get messed up. Maybe we got them from a long-dead ancestor. One clicks over and we find ourselves with a losing cancer hand. I’m not sure what happened in my case. My tumor was not genetically profiled. I wish it had been so I would better understand my odds at this point. Will I get another shot at a losing hand?

I know this in jest as no one tries or wants to get cancer. But it’s interesting to think about everything that causes cancer. Sadly, there are dozens of things. Cancer aside, I am indeed fortunate (and thankful) to be here.