What Causes Cancer? (I’m not professing to know)

Conversation with the oncologist, January 15th, 2014
Me: How long do you think the tumor in my chest has been growing?
Oncologist: Probably about three to four months.

I would like to preface this post by stressing that

  • I do not know what causes cancer (beyond the uncontrollable growth of cells)
  • I am not a medical professional
  • I by no means am convinced that the theory I present below is true
  • I have more questions than convictions about what causes cancer
  • Anyone reading this post should take it with a grain of salt

A fractured foot bone, September 14th, 2014
Jogging had become my sanctuary. It cleansed my body of stress, three to four times weekly. I forgot about problems, work, responsibility. Then I fractured the second metatarsal in my left foot. I couldn’t walk properly for a month or run for two. The news instantly depressed me. I also couldn’t bike, but I wouldn’t want to. I didn’t want to swim either. Neither would feel the same without the jogs in between.

I didn’t know how I would cope with the absence of running and its endorphin-laced healing powers. All my life concerns flooded into this new void. Problems, work, responsibilityI could no longer run through them.

Stress and Life Change
I had a baby. My workload increased. My mother-in-law visited. My mother visited. My diet changed. I changed. Much had happened in the three months before September, but there was one constantjogging. It kept my stress down and my mental health in check. Perhaps it did more. Perhaps the depression I felt when separated from running ignited a dormant force deep within my core. Perhaps the cancer awakened.

What Causes Cancer?
Perhaps if I had kept running the tumor in my chest would not have developed. I will never know. An oncologist explained that the cells which produced the tumor were present in my chest since birth. I am unsure what this means exactly, if the cells were always malignant, or if they became malignant later in life. I will never know.

Perhaps I didn’t eat well. I was under too much stress. I inhaled too much D.C. air. Perhaps none of this matters. Regardless of the things I did, places I went, stress I endured, my cancer would have developed. My theory might be ludicrous, but it has crossed my mind several times, and the timeline fits perfectly. Still, it doesn’t matter too much at this point. Not for me. Researchers and practitioners will continue to seek answers in theories much more grounded than mine. What causes cancer? What caused my cancer? Why did the germ cells in my chest start growing uncontrollably? I don’t really care. Not at this point point. I just want the cancer gone.

About Emerging Environments

Thoughts about environmental policy, sustainability, cancer, and more.
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3 Responses to What Causes Cancer? (I’m not professing to know)

  1. I personally believe that something turns on a gene that then causes the cells to proliferate like crazy, but who knows what turns on that gene? I do know that as more is learned about cancer, we are finding more gene mutations present in certain kinds of cancer and there are now drugs that turn off or change those particular mutations. For example, as of right now, up to 50% of lung cancers show some sort of mutation. I think all cancers have them, it’s just a matter of finding them.

    There is no way to prevent cancer that we know of. We can reduce risk by eating well, exercising, etc. And I think the distinction between prevention and risk reduction is important. If we talk about being able to prevent cancer, then we are blaming the cancer patient for not doing enough to prevent her cancer, and we don’t need to be blamed for our cancers.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Josh: Re Your 3/2/14 post. You didn’t do this. You are a fine man and there is no need to beat yourself up. Maybe for folks in their late 20’s or so, running 3-4 X/wk is life, but that is not true as one ascends chronological age. You are in the fit, intelligent minority. So, please do not be hard on yourself.

    Here is Ruth Rainwater’s reply which I just read and matches my ineloquently expressed thoughts:
    “If we talk about being able to prevent cancer, then we are blaming the cancer patient for not doing enough to prevent her cancer, and we don’t need to be blamed for our cancers.”

    I am your mom and dad’s friend Sam.

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