“Why do I get to be ‘Cancer Girl?’ Why couldn’t I have gotten a good diagnosis?”
I was waiting on pins and needles to hear a good friend’s prognosis. Julie had a large uterine tumor and her medical team prepared her for the worst; the mass didn’t present itself well. She tried to steel herself for a cancer diagnosis. But it turned out that Julie’s more than 11 ½ pound growth was benign.
While I was of course thrilled for Julie, a tiny voice inside of me sobbed: “Why do I get to be ‘Cancer Girl?’ Why couldn’t I have gotten a good diagnosis?”
Two years earlier, I learned that I had Stage 1 breast cancer. Not one, but two types: invasive carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). My immediate future involved a mastectomy, emergency surgery when the reconstructive tissue expander went wrong and gave me a horrendous infection, and three months of chemotherapy that left me bald, aching, and exhausted—but cancer-free.
So, while I was elated Julie didn’t have to face the ordeal that I had, I asked my husband why couldn’t I have been so lucky.
Peter responded with a huge bear hug. “But you are lucky,” he whispered into my neck. “You’re still here.”
At first I thought, “Yeah, still here to do your laundry and cook for you,” but I knew exactly what he meant: I was still alive.
A slightly bigger voice drowned out the tiny voice in me. “Somebody has to get cancer,” it told me. “Why not you?”
A recent study showed that the cancer card is pretty much the luck of the draw. It found that getting cancer has less to do with what you do and more to do with chance (random genetic mistakes or mutations) and simple genetics. People who don’t smoke and have vegetarian and macrobiotic diets get cancer as do people who drink like fish and smoke like chimneys.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that one in two men and one in three women (or 40.4%) will get cancer in their lifetimes. If the odds are like Lotto or Powerball, then why couldn’t I be a scratch-off millionaire?
But in a way, I have won the lottery. Women I know aren’t quite so lucky. Women I know with early diagnoses similar to mine are battling reoccurrences of breast cancer that were rediscovered in Stage 4. They’ve tried trial drugs, done rounds of chemo, and nothing seems to work. They are bad-ass warriors who still haven’t given up hope. Because without hope, what else is there?
In light of this realization, a still bigger, stronger voice inside told me that maybe my mission was to be a cancer ambassador.