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Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip’s Journal

Tom Philip has written a journal entitled "Don’t be a man: Do the right thing", which is an ongoing series about living with cancer from Tom’s perspective.


Why me? Some say it’s Lady Luck

by Tom Philip

In the last article in this series, I mentioned my discovery that the ‘Why me’ question was still lurking in my mind.

Why did I get cancer? Why was it necessary for me to face my own mortality in such drastic fashion? Why did I require major surgery, where other cancer patients are treated with radiation, or chemotherapy? Why has my recovery been relatively smooth and surprise free? Why have I survived, when so many of my friends and neighbours have not?

Some researchers have stated that luck may be as much a factor as anything else when it comes to getting, treating successfully, and surviving cancer. I can understand that changes to our environment, both personal and general, can affect incidences of cancer in our population. I can see that changes in disease patterns, improved education, medicine and health care, even improvements in our general standard of living can have an impact on whether we get cancer or not.

It’s a little harder to accept that your bladder, colon, lungs, brain, bones or blood are invaded by killer cells simply because it’s “the luck of the draw.” You’ve hit the cancer lottery, lucky you! In 1981, British epidemiologists Richard Doll and Richard Peto published their estimates of cancer deaths, in any given population of 1,000 Americans, proportional to different avoidable risk factors. Not surprisingly, tobacco use topped their list as leading to 25-40 deaths, up to 70 cancer deaths caused by dietary factors, 10 as a result of infections, parasites and viruses, eight fatal cancers caused by occupational hazards, and only five as a direct result of environmental factors.

The two doctors revised their study in 1998, adding obesity and the lack of physical activity as being linked to two cancer deaths in a thousand people. Genetics was not considered a factor in 1981, and was not included in their later work. Otherwise, their estimates remained relatively unchanged from the earlier study. The American statistical estimates were compared to similar estimates of cancer cases in other countries.

Not surprisingly, the good doctors hypothesized that, if you were born in a country that has a very low incidence of cancer, and then migrate to a country with a significantly higher cancer mortality rate (usually developed, western countries), and become exposed to the factors listed in their studies, there is a better than average chance you will get cancer.

In a nutshell, Doll and Peto concluded that cancer is avoidable for most of us, as long as certain identifiable, risky practices are avoided during our lifetimes. Ideally, from birth to death we would be non-smoking vegetarians, with no extra body fat, exercising moderately every day, living and working in environments that are pollution, parasite and virus free. Other than that, one person’s chances on the roulette wheel of life are pretty much the same as another’s, proportional to where you live in this world.

Dr. Harri Vainio, and Mr. Julian Wilbourn, researchers at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, located in Lyon, France, had this to say in 1993 about who will get cancer.

“In human cancer there is probably no such thing as ‘sufficient’ or ‘necessary’ cause; all what we are studying are ‘contributory’ causes, active is some stages of the multi-step, and multi-factorial process of carcinogenesis.”

Like me, some of you reading this will develop cancer in one of its various, hideous forms. Most of us have contributed to the development of our disease by not taking care of ourselves, by not doing enough to avoid habits and environments that are, increasingly, being identified as causes of cancer. Of course, some people will continue to breeze through life without getting cancer despite decades of self-abuse. And others will continue to die, some at a very early age, even though their lifestyles have been relatively pure.

Only one thing remains certain. If you never get cancer, consider yourself lucky

next  It’s time for Ottawa to pay the cancer piper

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