We all know someone personally, or have heard about a friend’s family member, being diagnosed with cancer.
My mother was diagnosed with Stage 1 adenocarcinoma, a malignant tumor in her left lung, when I was 13 years old. While I knew that cancer in general was bad news, I didn’t realize at the time how much worse the disease could have affected my mother than it did. I could have lost her.
Luckily for my mother and my family, her cancer, which was located in her upper left lung, could be surgically removed. It resulted in her losing 18 percent of her left lung.
As I got older, and whenever my mother’s cancer diagnosis was mentioned, I thanked the Lord she survived.
And I still do. Thirteen years have passed since my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and during that time, we have made many fond memories together. She has also been able to watch me grow into a successful young adult, and each day I am more thankful to have her in my life.
In fall of 2011, however, my Aunt Janice was also diagnosed with cancer, but hers was much more aggressive than my mother’s. I visited with her a few times while she was sick and it broke my heart. Each time I saw her she appeared weaker and weaker.
According to my mother, because Aunt Jan’s cancer was so far advanced, doctors couldn’t determine where it originated and therefore couldn’t give her the proper treatment. Just a few months after she learned she had cancer, Aunt Jan passed away.
And more recently, one of my college friends, Molly, lost her father after a courageous battle with cancer. My best friend Heather’s father was also diagnosed with cancer in recent years, and after a series of treatments, it was determined he was cancer-free.
Before writing this column and the stories for this issue of Maine Women, it didn’t really occur to me how many people in my life have been affected by cancer. In fact, it has got me thinking about whether I should participate in a future Tri for a Cure.
OK, that’s a long shot, considering the fact I can’t recall the last time I ran – or walked – a mile without stopping.
But sometimes, when people get inspired, like the many other women who have participated in, or are training for, the Tri for a Cure, they decide to go for it.
I have never considered participating in a triathlon, or a 5K, or any such athletic event, in my entire life. Perhaps that is because I am so out of shape. But after reflecting on the bad experiences that cancer has put my family and friends through, I may consider it.
But where to start?
I don’t consider myself a biker, runner or swimmer. Prepping for the Tri for a Cure would require me to spend all my free time training. Perhaps I could join sheJAMs?
I am not saying that I wouldn’t have supported the Tri for a Cure had it not been for my personal experience, but the triathlon seems like a nice way to honor those I’ve lost to cancer, as well as the friends who have lost loved ones to the horrible disease.
Here’s some perspective: According to a 2014 Maine Cancer Surveillance report by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “In Maine, cancer is the leading cause of death as well as the leading cause of potential life lost before age 75. While cancer rates in both Maine and the U.S. have steadily declined over time, Maine’s cancer death rates have remained consistently higher than U.S. rates.”
In 2010, nearly 8,300 Mainers were diagnosed with cancer, and 3,247 Mainers died from cancer, according to the report. But what are the reasons?
“For both youth and adults, there are a number of factors that can contribute to an increased risk of developing cancer,” the report says. “Although cancer risk generally increases with age, health behaviors and lifestyle choices such as tobacco and alcohol use, excess body weight, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive exposure to ultraviolet light (like in tanning booths) are all known to increase an individual’s risk of being diagnosed with cancer.”
After learning these statistics, I am even more motivated to participate in the triathlon, and not just because I want to help find a cure, but because my life could be at risk, too, especially if I don’t get in shape.
After all, life’s too short to not take chances.
Might as well give it a Tri.