Content Warning: This post is about cancer and includes references to physical illness, death and dying. As well as more positive messages.
Regular visitors to my blog will know that in 2018 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and while it was a massive shock, I have since made a full recovery. I had a mastectomy followed by radiotherapy and am on medication for 5 years. The risk of recurrence is low. You can find more about my own cancer journey here.
Cancer and ageing
I was 56 when I was diagnosed and according to Cancer Research UK, 90% of all cancers occur in the over 50s.This is due to the fact that as our bodies age our cells become damaged and we are more susceptible to cancer cells forming tumours. Since my own diagnosis I’ve read extensively about the relationship between diet and cancer. There seems no doubt in my mind that there is a link. Much of the processed food we eat is bad for our gut health and the use of hormones in animals is thought to be linked to the type of breast cancer I had.
My cancer was diagnosed quickly and the care I received was excellent. My age was in many ways immaterial, as it should be and anyway I’m not exactly old. During my nursing career I’ve cared for many cancer patients, but that doesn’t entirely prepare you. That experience and also caring for my dad at the end of life was a real learning experience. My dad had bowel cancer and was 78 when he died. He received active and palliative treatment until just a few months before he died. It is interesting to note that it was his decision to stop treatment, all that was available to him by then were stage 1 trials. Earlier in my nursing career he would have been written off much earlier. But advances in treatment and a better understanding of treating older people mean that this has changed.
I think we are better at dealing with cancer in older people now, there is less ageism than there was. People don’t assume you’ve had a good life at 70. Indeed I would say that they consider 70 young, as I now do since I’m not far off 60 myself.
Lifestyle and Cancer
As I mentioned above there is now a lot of research about how our actions can affect our chances of developing illnesses like cancer. Not all cancers are preventable, that is for sure. But we can certainly help ourselves. There are obviously no guarantees, but eating healthily, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking or drinking to excess are all important. As is protecting ourselves from the sun and getting plenty of exercise.
I’m better at sticking to some aspects of these preventative measures than others. I am overweight and am constantly trying to change that. While I eat healthy and choose non processed, organic food where I can, I know I drink too much alcohol. Lockdown hasn’t helped that at all. I am determined to get out and exercise more and I think that once we can do more we’ll spend less time drinking wine.
Death and dying
Cancer is no longer a death sentence and older people with cancer are more likely to die of other illnesses. Treatments are targeted and tailored to individual need much more than they ever were. But in the end we all have to die of something. Personally I would rather my cancer diagnosis than the motor neurone disease my brother in law endured and finally died of. His life was truly difficult and he was cared for by his elderly parents, it changed the course of their retirement.
My dad was ill for 3 for 4 years and had amazing treatment. But in the end the suffering caused by the chemotherapy outweighed the periods of time he was well. His decision to end treatment was accompanied by a bucket list and a spring and summer of things to get done. At the end I stayed with my parents and cared for dad at home. His death was very difficult for mum, my brothers and me, but we have the satisfaction of knowing he died at home. That was what he wanted and I will always be grateful I was able to do that for him.
Tomorrow will be about something altogether more uplifting and positive. I am cross posting this piece on my food, Fitness and Health blog. Go over and see what else I’ve written during this Blogging challenge.