Back in the halcyon days of childhood, the value of health was instilled in me by my physician father. We five children always had a green and a yellow vegetable at every meal and were limited in our salt, fat and sugar intake. We played outside. No soda, just milk. (Unless it was Friday night, and The Carol Burnett show was on.) We ran around our neighborhood with happy spirits.
At the age of 12 or so, I recall riding my bike down to my friends at the end of the street. Their parents weren’t home. A boy across the street came over with a bottle of whisky. My two girlfriends and the boy decided it would be interesting to see what all the cocktail fuss was about. We sat around the kitchen table and passed the bottle. When it was my turn, I took a swig and spit it back in the bottle.
The others started to giggle. They got up and danced. I pretended to be affected even though I thought that they were just putting on a show. Then, my friend went into the bathroom and got violently sick.
I was so glad that I didn’t imbibe! I decided to NEVER drink, take drugs, or compromise my health.
Ten years later I became an alcoholic. After I got sober, I got cancer. Twice.
I am thrilled to be able to report that I am doing remarkably well after a bone marrow transplant to treat my recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia. I’m gleefully sober. And for the first time in my adult life, my cholesterol is in range!
There may have been a genetic mutation that destined me to become an addict and another to become a person with cancer. Of course, there are a thousand ways to speculate “why me.” I decided to avoid pondering over this. I spent too much time thinking that I caused both my alcoholism and cancer by my behaviors – only to realize that I’ll never really know the answer to “why me.” Initially the scrutiny helped me reform my behaviors, but after that – the contemplation became tedious, depressing and futile. I started to focus on loving life and giving back. And that is exactly where I am at today.
At a recent Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Educational Event, I was reminded that some people may be dispositioned to alcoholism and cancer due to genetic mutations, community dynamics and environmental factors.
About my leukemia, I was initially told that I had a mutation. My doctor said “If someone were to have a mutation for AML, they would want yours. It’s easier to treat.” Problem is, I got cancer a second time after I was told that. Life throws you curveballs.
Side note: I learned something new at the LLS event. Doctors sometimes value prognostic scores more than the staging of a cancer diagnosis. They analyze the treatment outcome statistics. A stage 4 cancer patient undoubtedly will face challenges. In some instances, new effective treatment options or innovative clinical trials may be available. A stage 1 cancer patient may not have readily available treatment options. They may suffer from a cancer type that received less research funding yielding smaller prognostic statistical information and fewer if any clinical trials. I never thought of this.
I’m still proud of my 12-year-old conviction. I can apply my resolve to be healthy anytime in my life. Now I am of sound mind and body and wish to keep it that way. I expect life will throw me many more curveballs, but I conjure strength from experience.
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