I Did Not Cause My Cancer

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You can do everything right...and still get breast cancer.

You can do everything "wrong," and never get breast cancer.

The truth is, who does and who doesn't get breast cancer is a crap shoot. I remember when I went to a (now defunct) cancer support group, a woman joined the group who was upset that she had done everything "right" -- ate right, exercised, didn't smoke, etc. -- and she still got breast cancer. It wasn't fair, she said. No, it wasn't; it isn't. It isn't fair that anyone gets breast, or any other kind, of cancer.

I've noticed that, as a society, we want answers to questions, questions like "why" someone got breast cancer. We want to be able to point to one thing -- she's overweight, she didn't take care of herself, she smoked -- and that's why she got cancer. It's not that simple, though. Breast cancer isn't a cause-and-effect kind of disease. As Karuna Jagger, Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action puts it in a Sept. 13, 2011 blog post titled "Mammograms, Diet & Exercise Will Not End the Epidemic":

One of the ugly truths of breast cancer is that more than half of all breast cancers have no known cause and scientific evidence suggests that many cases are linked to exposure to environmental toxins. This means that, even if a woman follows Ms. Brinker’s call to exercise, never smoke, reduce alcohol consumption, and control her weight, she may still get breast cancer. Today the greatest risk for breast cancer is being a woman. In fact, a woman today has a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of getting breast cancer, up from 1 in 20 in the 1960s and 1 in 14 in the 1980s.

People shouldn't get smug because they don't have breast cancer, or any kind of cancer, for that matter. There are risks, yes, but as I said, not everyone with those risks gets cancer. And some without the risks get cancer anyways.

I think it's fairly common, when one is diagnosed, to want to know if only you did x, y, or z differently, if things would have turned out differently. I've played that horrible game myself, wondering if I'm to blame for my cancer or if I'm at least to blame for it being Stage 4 when I was diagnosed.

I've fought those thoughts, those feelings since I was first diagnosed. If I had done something that caused my cancer, you see, I could warn other women against doing it and prevent them from getting breast cancer. However, there was nothing that I did or didn't do to cause my cancer. It's truly a crapshoot.

Instead of people talking about awareness (which is a good thing, of course) and talking about action, but talking about it in terms of living well and getting mammograms, I wish people would talk more about saving the lives of those of us who already have cancer. I wish they would fund research that is not only trying to figure out what does cause cancer (if there is a single causality), but also fund research for better treatments for those of us who have already drawn the short straw.

One out of every eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. One out of every EIGHT. That's a lot. At one time, there were four of us women in the department where I work. TWO out of four of us developed breast cancer. That's HUGE and scary. And it should be scary.

Am I trying to scare people? No . . . . but I am trying to make them aware of what a problem this is, that all the pink ribbons in the world won't make this go away.

We need money. We need research. We need time.

And please God, we need a cure before more women (and men) die from this disease.

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