Life, Death, Cancer, Schmancer


If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I lost my sister, Marion, to cancer in July. It was quick; she was officially diagnosed on June 4 and died on July 3 (though, in hindsight, there were signs prior to the diagnosis).

We didn’t come from a “cancer family.” But during my last mammogram in September, I was told “now you do.” The vast majority of our ancestors died of heart attacks, strokes, old age or congestive heart failure, with some pneumonia, a couple of suicides, and other things thrown in. There were one or two lifestyle cancers, but no genetic history.

A friend recently posted how life in 1905 differed from today, including the main causes of death. Cancer was not on the list. What has changed in a century to make cancer such a pervasive cause of death in our lifetime?

I recently read one article in which a young man was diagnosed, and I’m attaching a quote from what he was asked by his doctors:

“The researcher began reading from a list, which turned out to be long. Some things I had heard of, many others I had not. Metal filings? Asbestos dust? Cutting oils? I didn’t think so. What’s a cutting oil? How about gasoline exhaust? Asphalt? Foam insulation? Natural gas fumes?

Where was this going?

The words kept coming. Vinyl chloride? I wasn’t sure. What was that? How about plastics? Are you kidding? Everything is made of plastic. Dry-cleaning agents? Detergents or fumes from plastic meat wrap? Benzene or other solvents? Formaldehyde? Varnishes? Adhesives? Lacquers? Glues? Acrylic or oil paints? Inks or dyes? Tanning solutions? Cotton textiles? Fiberglass? Bug killers or pesticides? Weed killers or herbicides? Heat-transfer fluids? Hydraulic lubricants? Electricfluids? Flame retardants?”

Cotton textiles?? Really, I would have sworn wearing cotton would be our best choice in fabric!

Haven’t we all been exposed to these items, pretty much on a daily basis? My drinking water comes in plastic! Living in Southern California, breathing in gasoline exhaust is a rite of passage.

In what started as a question of how cancer has affected all of our lives, today I read a post by a man whom I admire, who is suffering from stage 4 brain cancer. His words…I cannot even paraphrase. They hit me in the gut and in my soul. When is enough, enough, he asked (

He asks the eternal question: when he transforms from this world, what will it be? Below is an excerpt:

“I am truly excited for the next step. Together, Susie and I have tried to envision a butterfly’s metamorphosis. As I transform from this world, I hope to be thrilled by what I experience next — but it’s difficult to imagine what that will be. Will it be bright lights and loved ones? Will I be returned to some place I’ve been before? Or is it simply ashes to ashes?

It is the eternal question, and in spite of one’s religious beliefs, the truth is, we don’t know. Personally, I think (but I don’t claim to know) that our spirit of energy continues on in some realm. I like to believe we see the loved ones who have passed before us in those bright lights he mentions. Just before Marion died, her husband, Whitey said to her “you’ll soon be with your father again” (she was the ultimate daddy’s girl). She had a bright light in her eye one last time when he said that.

I don’t know anything, but I take comfort in that Marion, on her death bed, had one last light in her eye about the prospect of seeing our dad again, and all those we have loved and lost.

On that note, enjoy every single day you are given. It is truly a gift.

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