How Can You Turn Off the Fear?

Is cancer a curse to be handed down from generation to generation? A lot of you have written in about the uncertainty and fear that can grip families that are hit by cancer. Some, whose parents have gotten the disease, wonder if they're next. Those parents wonder if they will pass on the suffering to their children. And there is a strong genetic component in many types of cancer, but not all.

When I first got colon cancer five years ago, I asked my doctor if I needed to drastically alter my lifestyle. He laughed and said no, that my type of colon cancer was genetic. Let me explain why he laughed: I actually asked if I had to give up cheeseburgers, a recurring concern of mine. But he was right about the genetic part. My grandmother had it, my mother had it and I have it. So far, my sisters have escaped.

So it's not automatic, it's not certain, it's not a family curse. Except when it is. The worst part of all this may be the fear. Each generation just waiting for the bad news to strike. That's no way to live, but I can certainly understand it. How can you turn off that fear?

There is so much we don't know about cancer. There are certainly environmental factors, at least in some cancers. I think back to the time I spent in the burning oil fields in Kuwait, when the rain itself came down black. Was my cancer somehow related to Gulf War Syndrome? Probably not; that wouldn't explain my family history. But do those factors make you more susceptible? Who knows?

And in the end, it may not even matter. Honestly, I don't really care how I got it or why. I have it — that's the overwhelming reality, that's what I have to deal with. I would like to offer reassuring words to those who are worried that it's coming their way, that it's almost inevitable. But I don't have those words, other than to say learn all you can, talk to your doctors, make the lifestyle choices that make sense for you. But don't live in fear. Life is too short for that.

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Dear Leroy,

My name is David Cheatham and I am the COO of Bio-hydration Research Lab, Inc., makers of Penta water. One of the most important requirements doctors place on patients going through chemo is to drink lots of water. Many people, including some doctors, have reported to us that they have seen a reduction in the side effects from chemotherapy and radiation when they drink Penta water. We do not have clinical studies right now that prove this. However, we do have clinical studies that show Penta water re-hydrates more than ten times faster than an average mineral water. Faster hydration means that you are going to detoxify the body faster which is why we think Penta helps reduce the side effects from chemo. Also, we have some data that shows Penta reduces the enzyme levels (SGOT and SGPT) in the liver that can become elevated due to the chemotherapy drugs.

Since we don't yet have full clinical studies on the effects of Penta for chemo patients, we are not making any claims about Penta. It does not cure anything except de-hydration.

Our patented Penta process involves 13 steps and 11 hours of processing the water. Penta has been the #1 selling water in health food stores nationally for the past four years. It is available in national chains such as Whole Foods and Wild Oats. Penta is also available in many mainstream grocery stores as well. For a store near you, please visit www.pentawater.com. Also, I would be happy to send you some to try.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Sent by David Cheatham | 4:26 PM | 9-6-2006

After my first husband was killed in a small plane crash I thought to myself that there would be nothing in my life that could ever hurt me that deeply again. But after remarrying and experiencing the birth of my first child, I realized that that was not true. The thought of anything ever happening to one of my two boys literally takes my breath away!

My world briefly stopped when the surgeon that operated on my husband told us that my husband's cancer was indeed hereditary. What had we done? Our two boys were only four and six at the time. If we had known that my husband carried this deadly disease would we have even had children? This was just one of two times my husband saw me cry following his diagnosis. I can't even recall the surgeons conversation in full detail... the news was just too devastating!

But as I mentioned in a previous post, now I know. My husband did not have that privilege. I try not to dwell on what the future may hold for our children. I do plan on meeting with a genetic counselor to see what her recommendations might be.

And in the meantime, I'm just trying to make as many good, happy memories for all of us as I can! You are right, Mr. Sievers. If there is anything I have learned after being widowed twice, life is too short!

Sent by D.L.N. | 1:12 PM | 9-7-2006

I remember bringing my husband back to the hospital, an emergency on a Friday afternoon. And I saw MaryAnn, a woman patient, we often spoke to, but today was different, she was visibly shaken, but we had an emergency so passing her in the hall was all I had time for.

It was two days later when I found out that MaryAnn who had on other occasions said her cancer was well contained had a new problem -? the cancer had gone to her brain. And after two more days I saw her again, she was calm now and said to me, "as long as there is treatment."

But she knew it that day, she is dead. She knew it, I knew it. Worst of all her doctor knew it. I have seen the same with my husband when his cancer went to his liver, he knew it, I knew it. You have to know his doctor knew it. So on the pretense that there is some salvation in their bag of tricks, you get snake oil.

Sent by Irene Patz | 1:27 PM | 9-7-2006

Black rain is a powerful image indeed. One of the many things i hope never to see. Fears faced are usually beaten but death remains a weight upon the shoulders like no other.

I have no advice, the disease that threatened my life went away again a few years later but I will never forget how it felt at the time. All I can say is stay as fit as you can. Don't be ashamed to walk in public, ride a wheelchair or look sick in front of other people because like Byron said truth is beauty and beauty is truth.

Sickness is not weakness; in fact there is no more obvious strength than pride in the face of strife. I suspect that you already know this, please keep up the blog.

Sent by John | 1:28 PM | 9-7-2006

Thank you so much for speaking up on this subject. My fear, the fear of recurrence, grips me every day. I know that I should not be spending this good time I have now wondering when cancer will strike me again. My odds are at about 30-40 percent that it will come back which should seem good compared to others whose odds are much worse. I guess I've become a glass half empty person. Another thing that cancer has taken away from me. My feeling is, I only had a 10% chance of getting breast cancer in the first place and I got it. I have read that I shouldn't let cancer rob me of more than it has. That percentages don't count. Whether your odds are 99 percent or 1 percent it doesn't matter, if you are part of the wrong percentage. I know I should learn to enjoy life now and what will be, will be. But how do you move past the fear?

Sent by June | 1:40 PM | 9-7-2006

My grandfather on my father's side smoked Lucky Strikes for 50 years and ultimately died from lung cancer. My mother also smoked for 50 years and died from ovarian cancer. The twist for her is that as a child of nine she had the good fortune of living between the two atomic bombs in Japan. She had cancer first at 19. Was this a coincidence? My sister battled autoimmune issues for 20 years and I battled Hep C without knowing for many years. What is the connection? I never thought of myself getting cancer until "the phone call" as I call it.

Like you, I don't really care how I got it or why. The harsh reality is I got it and battled from that day forward. I choose the word "battled" because I consciously and diligently stand watch ready to pounce on whatever treatments are available to battle the remnants of treatment or should a recurrence appear somewhere in the body.

Amen on not living in fear. FEAR: false events appearing real. When various glands starting swelling up in my neck post-treatment, my otolaryngologist looked me in the eye and gave me the best advice to date, "Stop worrying about what it isn't until we can prove what it is."

Best wishes always.

Sent by Ed Brown | 1:56 PM | 9-7-2006

My 11-year-old son who didn't ask too many questions about my rectal cancer turned to me about eight months after I finished treatments and asked, "Do I have to worry?" And I had to say "Yes, you'll need to be checked regularly at an earlier age than everyone else." Maybe my cancer was a fluke, there's no one else in my family with colon cancer. I'm not a smoker or a drinker.

But, I've bequeathed this legacy to him.

I hope that along with the worry, we've also given him the knowledge that you deal with this problem straight on and that your life goes on as best it can.

Sent by Chris | 1:58 PM | 9-7-2006

I think the advice that you're giving people is sound and should help ward off the unknown fear. If people stay informed and continue to get regular checkups they will advance their chance of avoiding something like cancer that isn't inevitable. My mother had breast cancer from 1980-1985 she died in November of 1985 from metastyses and complications resulting from them. I have since worried about cancer and myself. When I was diagnosed with a sarcoma in 1997, I thought that was going to be my one battle. But then in August of 2005 I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. The irony of being the same age as my mom when she died was not lost on me. I've lead a healthy lifestyle and kept up on my mammograms since I turned 40, but my worst fear came to pass anyway. I'm not sure how to deal with the fear many days it contributes to a lingering depression. I would prefer not to feel afraid so much of the time, but I can't seem to help it.

Sent by Cindy H. | 2:05 PM | 9-7-2006

My comment is directed to David Cheatham, the Penta water guy:

Dear Mr. Cheatham, I certainly hope for your sake that you truly intended your message to be beneficial information for those reading this blog. I would hate to see the wrath of God descend upon you as it surely will if your heart was not pure — if, as it would appear to the jaded among us like me, you saw this as an opportunity for free advertising. Certainly, you intended to offer free shipments of water, in any quantity, to anyone who mentioned seeing your message on this blog? To do any less would be surely be proof positive that you are a crass and greedy slime ball.

Sent by Brenda Varner | 2:33 PM | 9-7-2006

Who let that ad get through? Hey Leroy, love your blog. It helps me remember to lighten up. Aloha!

Sent by Lisa | 4:09 PM | 9-7-2006

More than half (closer to 2/3) of my dad's family have had colon polyps, precancerous polyps, or tumors. Some were caught in time. Many more died. My cousins and I are staring into the beginning of the get tested yearly phase. If we're polyp free until 65, there's a chance we've escaped and will live 30 more years.

Knowing that I could live to my 50s or die when I'm 90, doesnt change the fact, that I'm alive right now.

My uncle who died of colon cancer at 54 last year was given a month initially. Every day he said this day is not the end. A year and a half later, he went camping in Montana, colostomy bag and all. The day he died was hardly the last day he lived. Just the last day he breathed.

His life is an example to those who knew him — that no matter how bad the chemo is, there's always time for a walk along the river. Someone has to pick the elderberries for the Thanksgiving pie. There's always a phone call to be made work to be done.

Such as I shall live my life. I refuse to live in fear of what I can't help. If my genes betray me, it's the hand I'm dealt and the life I was chosen to live.

Sent by Karen | 1:43 PM | 9-8-2006

Leroy,

Your comments are greatly appreciated. I read once that nurses were asked if they would rather die from cancer or die instantly. Most stated they would rather die from cancer because the patients they worked with had the time to arrange their lives, talk to loved ones and most had peaceful endings. Maybe you can respond to this view.

Sent by Mary Lynne Carlisle | 2:20 PM | 9-11-2006

The reason it mattered to me to find out if there was a genetic link to my cancer was so that my kids would know. I had to fight to be tested. Turns out I am positive for the BRCA2 Ashkenazi Jew mutation. My daughter was tested and she is also. Her risk factor for breast cancer is 84 percent so they're watching her like a hawk. Hopefully they will catch it earlier than mine.

Sent by Patricia Buchanan | 2:22 PM | 9-11-2006

Today I received an email video about inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) and was shocked because I'd never heard of it before. How can that be?

Thank you for sharing your life...you are very generous to bare your soul during this time and I know many will benefit from it.

Sent by Pam R. | 2:26 PM | 9-11-2006

Dear Leroy,

Yes, I use the familiar. We are in the same club. I am an adult health nurse practitioner with a brain tumor (oligodendroglioma). These are the times that I wish I were famous... not rich... just famous. I now write, among other things and would love to share my knowledge of medicine as it relates to the lay people in this "club." The things the MDs and RNs don't have time for... or just don't know. I have been writing several journal articles on the subject. Any suggestions on whether they should be in professional journals or those for the lay public (eg. Ladies Home Journal etc.) or perhaps a blog? Topics include: "Companionship without Conversation" (about visitors),"Basic Needs" (sex, relationships, constipation),

"Living on Chemotherapy" (key word: living), "Know Your Body," "Life in a Gilded Cage," (about choices and lesser of evils). Because the tumor affects my speech (Broca Center), I am typing my memoirs: "The Silent Storyteller." Not always fun, but how wonderful to have the opportunity to do all of the above. Cycle 16 to begin in two weeks... 28-day cycles.

With great sympathy and empathy... and the joy of adventure...

Sent by Carol Daly | 2:40 PM | 9-11-2006

I continue to read your blog and it still gives me hope. I was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago and have had two recurrences. I have shared with friends thinking I was the only one to experience this, but guess what? I have spoken with many women who have had to deal with this two or three times and are still going strong... so you see we are certainly not alone... FEAR? You bet! Sometimes I find myself so stuck in it I can't get out. Other times it's not there although I dont have enough of those, but working on it. Take care and s—— the Penta water guy!

Sent by Meredith P. | 3:08 PM | 9-11-2006

"When I first got colon cancer five years ago, I asked my doctor if I needed to drastically alter my lifestyle. He laughed and said no, that my type of colon cancer was genetic. Let me explain why he laughed: I actually asked if I had to give up cheeseburgers, a recurring concern of mine. But he was right about the genetic part. My grandmother had it, my mother had it and I have it. So far, my sisters have escaped."

I suspect cancers with the ability to spread are not genetic. I know what doctors say, but doctors have been wrong in the past and maybe wrong here. Doctors still know little about germs and the immune system. The ability to spread is a survival technique used by living things including germs. I find it extremely hard to believe cells in our body having gone haywire have this ability. There's already one germ associated cancer, the human papillomavirus. I believe if one germ can do it, so can others. As a matter of fact here are some under suspicion:

"Certain types of liver disease: On-going (chronic) infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a very important liver cancer risk. These infections, which are common in many parts of the world, make liver cancer the most common cancer in these areas."

"Study suggests possible role for BK virus in development of prostate cancer."

It maybe that these germs need to inter-react with other germs or certain chemicals to make them cause cancer, but I think they are the main ingredient in cancer. I also believe these germs are where those cancer cells get the ability to spread in the body successfully. In a way, it maybe better that cancer is triggered by germs rather than genetic design flaws as germs will be easier to prevent in the future.

Sent by John Martin | 3:53 PM | 9-11-2006

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