Saturday, June 8, 2013

On Topic: National Cancer Survivor's Day

The statistics recently released by the Canadian Cancer Society tell a grim tale of cancer's future. Diagnoses are on the rise. Mortality is decreasing (if only slightly). Two out of every five Canadians will live to hear the words, "You have cancer." One in four will die from the disease.

Sunday, June 2nd, was National Cancer Survivor's Day. The time is ripe to highlight these statistics and what they mean for Canadians. After all, you, dear reader, have either been diagnosed, will be diagnosed, or know someone in either category. You can't escape it. Your life will be touched by cancer.

I don't mean to be grim. On the contrary, I want you to know that it will be okay. According to these statistics, cancer is sticking around. It may serve you well to get comfortable with the word, the idea, the disease.

I wasn't comfortable with any of it when I was diagnosed. At the age of 25, I knew but one distant, family friend who had been diagnosed. I was shocked to learn that someone with my cancer-free family history, with my good health, someone at my young age, could be diagnosed. I was shocked to know it was me.

My diagnosis taught me that it's exactly the possibility that you can't imagine that presents the biggest threat to your happiness and well-being. After reading these recent statistics, I implore you, dear reader, to consider the impossible. You could have cancer. But you could survive, too. Since the early 2000s, according to the stats, the mortality rate for my cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, among others, declined. A 2 percent decrease may not be anything to write home about, but it is promising. I'm proof.

Don't get too excited. I haven't survived cancer yet. I'm at two years of complete remission, and based on the conversations I have with my oncologists about hiking in Newfoundland and how my day went at work, I get the feeling I don't have much to worry about. I don't know at what point you actually 'beat' the thing, but I figure I'll live a full, complete life before deciding either way.

Of course, I've made the mistake of looking up the chances of me living that full, complete life. They hover around 80 percent (see Savage et al., 2005, Rieger et al., 2010, Shneider et al., 2011). Those are good odds, but they by no means guarantee certain survival. So instead, I imagine the highly likely. I see myself in the distant future, with my grandchildren sitting in awe at my feet. I'm a relic of the past to them, a person who -- gasp! -- had to endure the horrors of chemotherapy and radiation to survive cancer! But Grandma, they'll say, the doctor can cure you so easily now!
I'll tell them something like what I told you. A world without cancer was only possible because someone saw past grim statistics, and considered, but for a moment, what seemed impossible.

I could get cancer.

I could survive.

I could be cured.

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