Saturday, October 21, 2006

Fear and Prevention

I saw a documentary film tonight about a woman whose mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and aunt had breast cancer. She had a young daughter herself and at one point in the film, she said she wasn’t as worried about passing on breast cancer genes to her daughter as she was about passing on the fear.

I don’t think fear is necessarily a bad thing. Fear is just heightened awareness, and as long as it’s tempered with reason and positive attitude, fear can be a productive force. Because I’ve had breast cancer, Josie’s risk of getting it has increased. Should she live in terror that one day she will get breast cancer? Of course not. Should she be aware that she is at risk and that there are some things she can do to minimize that risk? Yes, definitely.

Of all the factors that raise our risk of getting breast cancer, the one thing we have any control over is lifestyle choices - diet, exercise, rest, stress, and exposure to hormones. If Josie is made aware of how these factors can influence her risk for breast cancer, she can choose to take some precautions -- drink less alcohol, eat less sugar and hormone-injected foods, exercise regularly, and maybe even have children earlier than I did.

As her mother, I feel it’s my job to educate Josie about lifestyle choices and breast cancer risks. I don’t need to tell her about cancer until she’s much older, but for now, I need to lay the foundations of a healthy attitude toward diet. That’s the only thing I can do for her so when I’m gone, she’ll have this in place to protect her, even if it’s just a little bit.

Of course, she can eat well and exercise all her life and still get breast cancer. Just like I can drive carefully and obey all traffic rules and still get killed by a runaway truck. We can’t control our environments, but we can certainly take control of ourselves and do the best we can with that.

The worse thing about having cancer is loss of control. Well that, and the dying bit. But I can’t do much about that. What I CAN do is take care of my body so it can have the best chance of fighting cancer and recovering from chemotherapy and radiation. I could forget about my special diet, supplements, and exercise, and just carry on with my life, waiting for cancer to get me someday. But I choose to fight it with whatever weapons I have so I can feel like I’m doing something.

Am I afraid that cancer will come back? Of course I am. I’m an optimist, not a deluded fool. The chances that cancer will come back and kill me are very high. Am I going to give up and wait for the inevitable? Of course not. I’m going to do everything in my power to fight it. And I expect my daughter to do the same.

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