Cancer 1

A little over a month ago, three days after my 53rd birthday, I received a diagnosis of rectal cancer. Happy birthday to me.

Since then, I have been wrestling with how public to be about it. I have a sense that writing is good for me. But it also keeps like milk. I wrote most of this a couple weeks ago and my head space has already evolved.

So writing like this is mostly a work of self-absorption (I’m sure you can forgive me) but hopefully it also helps to raise awareness amongst the cohort of people who might know me or read this.

Colorectal cancer rates are going up, and the expected age of occurance is going down. Please get screened. No matter your age, ask your clinician for a “FIT test”. If you’re over 45, just ask for a colonoscopy, the FIT test isn’t perfect.

I have a pretty good prognosis, mostly because my case was caught by screening, not by experiencing symptoms bad enough to warrant a trip to the doctor. Most of the people who get diagnosed after showing symptoms have it worse than I, and will have a longer, harder road to recovery. Get screened.

Our language of cancer borrows a bit from the language of contagion. I “got” cancer. It’s not quite a neutral description, there’s a hint of agency in there, maybe I did something wrong? This article drives me crazy, the author “went vegan and became a distance runner” after his father died of colorectal cancer.

Sorry friend, cancer is not something you “get”, and it’s not something you can opt out of with clean living. It’s something that happens to you. Take it from this running, cycling, ocean rowing, rock climbing, healthy eater – driving down the marginal probability of cancer (and heart disease (and depression (and more))) with exercise and diet is its own reward, but you are not in control. When cancer wants you, it will come for you.

Carefree Climbing

This is why you should get screened (right?). It’s the one way to proactively protect yourself. The amazing thing about a colonoscopy is, not only can it detect cancer, but it also prevent it, by removing pre-cancerous polyps. It’s possible that screening could have prevented my case, if I had been screened a few years earlier.

I am now a denizen of numerous Facebook fora for fellow travellers along this life path, and one of the posts last week asked “what do you think cancer taught you”? I am a little too early on the path to write an answer myself, but one woman’s answer struck me.

She said it taught her that control is an illusion.

Before, I had plans. I could tell you I was going to go places, and do things, and when I was going to do them, next month, next season, next year. I was in control. Now, I can tell you what I will be doing next week. Perhaps. The rest is in other hands than mine.

Talk to you again soon, inshalla.

Carefree Camping