Saturday, 3 January 2015
Cancer: Bad Luck or the Best Way to Die?
This week the news revealed a few fascinating cancer-related stories.
The big headline was about why we get cancer: researchers at John Hopkins University School of Medicine have concluded that it's basically bad luck. Only a minority of cancers are caused by lifestyle, environment or genes, most of us just had cells that made random mistakes when they divided. You can just imagine the daft cell in my breast that got bored with making exact replicas of itself and one day decided to spice it up a bit (how about swapping this bit of my DNA with that one, how does that look? Er, actually looks rather scary...oops).
I have mixed feelings about shrugging it off onto bad luck. On the one hand, it's a relief to think that it isn't my fault that my family and I are going through the misery of chemo (there's always that little guilty voice that wonders...if only I'd exercised more/eaten bio products/or even that weird one, not used the microwave so much...).
On the other hand, 'bad luck' leaves us powerless to prevent the nightmare of recurrence. If it's just down to some daft cells then I can't do anything to stop it happening again. And apparently those of us with Lobular Breast Cancer in one breast have notably increased chances of the cells in our other breast being equally daft at some point.
Anyway, a little more digging reveals that this research didn't include breast cancer because the existing information on stem cell division rates in this part of the body is unreliable. So I'm going to stick with the research that showed that exercise can reduce chances of breast cancer recurring and my new year's resolution is to get fitter...even if that comes with a faint reproach that perhaps I should have joined a gym ten years ago.
At least science isn't just shrugging its shoulders and saying, bad luck guys, time to die. Which is basically what the lovely Dr Smith has said in the British Medical Journal. Cancer is, he claims, the best way to die and a jolly good thing for an ageing population. Bonus all round - we get a protracted death which gives us lots of time to say goodbyes to our loved ones and the planet gets a bit more room when we've gone! Thanks Dr Smith but I am not yet prepared to 'say goodbye...listen to favourite pieces of music..and prepare...to meet [my] maker.' I'll stick with my own doctor and take the chemo if it's all the same to you.
And finally, that brings me to a lovely story which shows that nature has its own sense of harmony and balance. Josie Conlon is in the news because her 2-year old collie dog, Ted, discovered her breast cancer. She was alerted to the problem when the dog urgently nosed and whined at her breast: tests revealed a particularly aggressive tumour that was caught in the nick of time. Crazy? Not so! Dogs have already been shown to be able to diagnose a number of diseases and there are now trials on-going with dogs able to sniff out breast cancers. It's still in early stages, but how lovely to imagine a future where cancer can be diagnosed by an enthusiastic, wet nosed doggy instead of flattening your breasts for a mammogram.
So there you have it, most cancer might be largely bad luck but regular exercise could still reduce your chances of breast cancer coming back. Best way to die or not, I'm thinking it's time to get a dog to take on brisk walks in the park. I've got a lot of living to do yet, Dr Smith.