It's not a question I dwell on. I tend to be the type of person who focuses more on what I'm going to do about a situation than why something happened in the first place. But when faced with a cancer diagnosis, it's impossible not to at least briefly ponder the question, "Why Me?"
There is no history of cancer in my family. Not prevalent, at least. And statistically, 70% of people diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of it. That alone is a scary thought. Then add to it the constant bombardment of information about cancer-fighting foods, cancer-causing foods, our environment, plastics, GMOs, hormones, carcinogens....the list is endless. Put it together and any reasonable person would, at some point, wonder if they've done something to bring this upon themselves. Yet when I asked my oncologist that very question, her answer was a quick and decisive, "No. It's just the luck of the draw".
Unless you believe in giant conspiracies, it's hard to reconcile those two. How can there be so much advice, legislature and information about cancer-causing everything, yet when you get it, your oncologist tells you it's just a random thing and you're just unlucky? It was my own physician who said that cancer is often a "three strikes you're out" kind of thing. Most of the time, one thing in and of itself will not give you cancer. It's usually a combination of genetics, family history, lifestyle, age that come together to create that perfect storm. And logically, that makes sense to me.
The type of cancer I have feeds on estrogen. It's the most common type of breast cancer, particularly for women my age, right around menopause, when hormones are shaking things up. Couple that with being overweight for the last 10 years--another thing that raises the estrogen levels in your body--and that's probably two of my strikes right there. But what about the third?
Though I can't find definitive scientific evidence of this, I do have my own theory. And it has to do with over 30 years of birth control.
I started on birth control pills at the age of 18, and stayed on them until I was 30. At that time, because I smoked, my doctor took me off them due to the high risk of heart attack when combining birth control and cigarettes after the age of 30. It wasn't a big deal as I had been married a while and we were starting to mumble about eventually getting around to being parents. And four years later, my son was born. After his birth, however, I wasn't keen on getting pregnant again, and needed something better than the diaphram and "good luck timing" we were relying on before. That's when my doctor told me about Depo Provera.
Depo Provera is another hormone-based form of birth control that is still around today. I loved it. You go in for a shot every 13 weeks and forget about it. It stops your periods (BONUS!), has virtually no side effects (for me, at least), and did not carry the same heart attack warnings of traditional birth control pills. With no reason to stop, I stayed on Depo Provera for 18 years, up until I turned 52, which was the age my doctor typically liked to take women off it.
And two years later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
At first, I hadn't considered a connection, until I started seeing things about my type of cancer being caused by hormone replacement therapy. In fact, the risk of breast cancer is so high that doctors don't even treat women with hormone therapy unless the case is extreme. So I started looking up Depo Provera, and what I found on the internet was a lot of contradicting information. One study found that Depo Provera raises the risk of breast cancer by something like 200%. It also said that risk remains high within 5 years of stopping the injections. However, that study is considered controversial and other studies show Depo Provera has no impact on breast cancer at all. In fact, you can still walk into your doctor's office and get the Depo shot for birth control.
I asked my surgeon about it and he reiterated what I'd read: That there is a debate, and right now, no one knows for sure. In defense of Depo, it is not an estrogen-based hormone. But it is a hormone. And when someone has been adding artificial hormones to her body for almost 30 years, you have to wonder. Add to that a diet that includes a lot of hormone-fed animal products. In my perpetual effort to drop 50 lbs, I've been stuck on a high-protein, low-carb diet seemingly forever. And with a boy at home that won't eat anything that didn't once "moo", our dinners have been centered around meat and chicken for a long time.
So there you have this intersection of many different things all coming together to put me in this spot. At least in theory. Decades of hormone-based birth control, a diet filled with too much hormone-fed animal products, a BMI too high, and an age that is ripe for developing breast cancer. I may be wrong. It could be just the luck of the draw that my oncologist says it is. But if I were to lay odds on lifestyle choices that may have played a part, that would be it.
It may sound surprising, but there is actually comfort in thinking that I had somehow contributed to my situation. You see, if you believe you did it, then you can undo it. It's a matter of control versus no control. And if you know me, you know I always opt for control. I am, after all, the person who stupidly said a mere 4 weeks before my diagnosis: "Man, I need a health scare to whip me into shape [to eat better, exercise more and lose weight]." Yes, I really did say that. I will never say it again!
On the Depo front, even the controversial study included some positive news. It found that the increased risks taper off after a few years off of the shots. So even if that study is later supported by more research, it seems I haven't sunk myself for life. And in the meantime, when I am watching daytime TV and hearing those class action lawsuit commercials (mesotheleoma anyone?) I will keep my ears peeled on the topic of Depo Provera. You can bet that!
But short of that, it's where the "Why Me?" pondering ends. In my opinion, the best way to ruin a life is to spend too much time obsessing over what might of been. And I have no interest in doing that. But these are definitely things that will shape my future.
Next Thursday is my last chemotherapy treatment, and I can't wait. Not only because chemo sucks and I'm officially sick of being sick. But I am looking forward to getting this treatment behind me so I can start really focusing on what my post-cancer life will look like. I intend for it to be a healthier one. Hey, I asked for that health scare, I got it, so I better damn well do something with that. But even if losing weight, eating a more plant-based diet, eating clean, exercising more and building up my strength doesn't prevent me from getting cancer again, it will definitely improve the quality of my life in between.
I can also attest that if you are faced with having to go through cancer treatment, the healthier you are going in, the easier it will be on your body to get through it. Trust me on that. It's a win-win no matter what.