There was a day – a single specific day – on which I got cancer. I don’t know what day it was, except it was probably about four or five years ago because that’s how long it takes breast cancer to grow from a single mutated cell into a discoverable lump.
Four or five years ago I was in the best physical shape of my entire adult life. I was running, lifting weights, doing yoga and aerobics, skating, skiing, eating well, and not smoking. I was lean and healthy. I looked good and I felt good.
I love the irony of having gotten cancer during my two-year healthy-lifestyle phase, because I am by nature a self-indulgent and slothful layabout who would rather eat 2,000 Smarties in the interests of mathematics than eat a single vitamin supplement.
I read that anger is common with cancer. It’s not unusual for people to ask “Why me?” But I haven’t felt any anger and I’m not really surprised it’s me. I’m as good a candidate as anybody, I suppose. Except that none of my blood relatives have ever had any type of cancer, so we’ve always felt protected. A little smug, even. Now I feel kind of apologetic to my relatives, especially my sisters and nieces, for being the weak link that let cancer get its foot in our collective door.
I guess I’m a little surprised that it’s breast cancer, even though one in eight women can expect to get breast cancer at some point in their life now. I’m not sure why it surprises me, but it does. And I’m surprised that it’s my right breast. I never consciously thought about this before, but at some level I thought if I ever got cancer, it would be on my left side. Left lung. Left ovary. Left kidney. Or cancer of something that there was only one of, like my cervix or my brain. I know that doesn’t make sense, but there you go.
I wonder if the day I got cancer was an otherwise good day, or if it was a difficult, stressful day. I wonder what I was doing the exact moment that cell mutated.
I wonder why I got cancer. Was it something I did or didn’t do? Was it something I knew I should or shouldn’t do? Like that time I used the flea pesticide on the dog indoors even though the instructions said to use it outdoors only? (I probably wouldn’t even remember this, except that all the ants in the ant farm died, which gave me pause.) Was it microwaving food in a plastic container? Not taking Vitamin D supplements? Eating a Boston Cream donut? Not eating walnuts?
Or was it something totally off the wall that we don’t yet know causes cancer, but maybe someday we will. Like doing push-ups or touching cats while wearing yellow socks.
Or was it just bad luck? Just a totally random sequence of events at the genetic level, which was totally beyond my control?
I guess I’ll never know. But if I could do it all over again, I’d take my Vitamin D supplements. And I wouldn’t use that pesticide indoors.