Winning the cancer lottery

Before I found out that I had cancer, I led a pretty healthy lifestyle.

I ate healthy. I was vegetarian for a year. Coffee was a treat on the occasional weekend. I never drank pop, except for when gin needed tonic as a partner. I was that person who regularly posted pictures of their salads on Facebook.

I exercised regularly. I volunteered at a yoga studio. I played ultimate frisbee at nationals. I ran a half marathon.

But having cancer has given me permission to enjoy the sweeter side of life, guilt-free.

We know that genes and lifestyle factors, such as tobacco and sun exposure, are big contributors to cancer risk. But what blew my mind was learning that an even bigger risk is due to random DNA typos. About two trillion cells divide daily in the human body. Two trillion! Cell division repairs our skin when we get burned by a curling iron. It helps our hair grow back after a bad haircut.

But every time a normal cell divides and copies itself, it makes mistakes, which are a source for cancer mutations. The percentage varies from cancer to cancer, but overall about two-thirds of cancer are due to random DNA errors.

What this means is that for a whole lot of people, their cancer was caused by a mistake. A fluke. Bad luck. Winning the lottery, but the shitty kind. There was literally nothing they could have done differently. They still would have gotten cancer.

For some people, this idea may be terrifying. But for me, it is so freeing.

Yes, there are many things that are within our control, such as what we put in our bodies, but there is actually so much out of our control. Even though my cancer was caused by a virus, knowing about how random cancer is has helped me deal with the “why me?” and “what did I do wrong?” questions because cancer can happen to anyone, anytime. Living a healthy lifestyle isn’t foolproof.

It’s helped me focus my attention on the things that I can control, that are truly meaningful to me, such as being a kind human being.

I still live a pretty healthy lifestyle. Knowing this isn’t a free pass to scarfing down junk food. But I no longer feel guilty when I do.







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