There is no magic reason

There is no magic reason why some people get cancer and some don’t. Why did I get cancer? People ask all kinds of things – do you smoke, drink, did you breastfeed, did you take hormone pills? They are looking for why I got it, so they can set their own mind at ease. I know, because I used to be that way too. That person got an aneurism because they have a stressful job and don’t eat carrots. Shew, it probably won’t happen to me then.

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My fortune cookie from a few weeks ago. Best one I’ve ever gotten!

Sure, there are contributing factors – based on various research, they think the following things contribute to the chance you’ll get breast cancer:

  • not having children, or  having them later in life (after 30), or having fewer children
  • not breastfeeding (this is only a slight risk)
  • using birth control or hormone replacement (there is actually more to this one, I’ll explain in a minute)
  • genetic predisposition (gene mutations – there are specific genetic markers they can test for)
  • family history of breast or other cancers (in close blood relatives)
  • as you get older your risk increases (as if getting old doesn’t suck enough!)
  • starting your period at an early age or going through late menopause (like before 12 and later than 55)
  • having breast tissue that is dense or has other benign (noncancerous) changes to it (fibroadenomas, cysts, etc.)
  • drinking alcohol
  • being overweight (especially after menopause) (being overweight at any age is actually a risk for many cancers, not just breast)

(Note there are many other things that have been studied that have been shown NOT to be a risk of breast cancer. You’ve probably heard many of them – bras, breast implants {except for one rare lymphoma type}, chemicals (plastics, pesticides, anti-perspirants, makeup, etc), abortions. None of these are risk factors.)

So for me – how do my risk factors add up?

  • NO – I had my first child at 29 and have 5 children total
  • mostly NO – I breastfed most of my kids at least for a while
  • YES – I used hormonal pills
  • NO – I was tested and do not have either BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • ONE – one aunt had breast cancer years ago, and has been cancer-free for about 30 years
  • NO –  they told me (regardless of how I feel 🙂 ) that at 48 I am NOT old yet. Risk starts at >50 and becomes more significant as you age beyond that.
  • NO
  • NO
  • RARELY
  • Well, YEAH, but I’m not past menopause yet (or at least I wasn’t before Chemo- now I am likely having Chemo-induced menopause)

So, for those of you counting- I have very few of the risk factors. So, sorry to say – it might happen to you. And it might not. Again, there is no magic reason why I got it and you didn’t.

So, back to the risk factors. A little explanation of why the above things are listed. They have studied these factors enough to suspect that the linkage between number of pregnancies, breastfeeding, age of menarche (start of menstruation) or age of menopause (stopping of menstruation), and hormonal birth control or replacement meds – and breast cancer – all seem to come down to how long your body is exposed to female hormones.

Early menarche or late menopause lengthens the amount of time you’re exposed. A greater number of pregnancies, the earlier you start having babies, and the longer you breastfeed – reduces the number of periods you will have, thus decreasing the amount of female hormones your body will be exposed to. In addition, surprising to many people, both drinking alcohol and being overweight increases the amount of estrogen in your body (fat can produce estrogen, thus why overweight children tend to start menstruation at a younger age).

If you think about it, they are all really linked to female hormones and it makes sense. What “they” (that anonymous “they” again 🙂 ) don’t know is why estrogen/progesterone (the female hormones I am talking about) might cause cancer. What’s funny (odd, not haha) is that using hormonal birth control actually reduces your risk of getting ovarian cancer, but prolonged use is a risk for breast cancer. What is good is that if you stop using the hormone pills (either birth control or replacement therapy), your risk eventually (after about 3 years) decreases back to that of someone who never took them. What they do believe is that estrogen alone actually decreases the risk of cancer, but estrogen with progesterone increases it. {And here my scientific self asks – then why does alcohol and being overweight not decrease the risk of cancer, if they only increase the estrogen level in the body? Maybe they also have a concurrent effect on progesterone levels? Who knows!)

“They” also say that although they haven’t fully proven that breast cancer is caused (remember correlation is not cause and effect – your little stats lesson for the day 😉 ) by estrogen and progesterone, if you have breast cancer that is estrogen receptor or progesterone receptor positive (denoted as ER+ or PR+), it DEFINITELY helps your cancer grow much faster by binding to the receptors on the cancer cells and “feeding” them.

But enough of the science…

Back to the magic reasons why I got cancer and you didn’t. There are none. It’s the same for why some people have their cancer recur after it was “cured” the first time and some don’t.  Why when it recurs sometimes it’s “curable” again and sometimes it is Stage IV. There is no way to know why.

One thing I can tell you for sure – people like me who are fighting cancer do not want to hear about your cousin’s neighbor who found out they had cancer and then died three months later. I also don’t want to hear about your co-worker’s sister who went through all the chemo and surgery and radiation only to have the cancer come back within a year and is now having to fight it all over again. I don’t want to hear anymore of those stories.

I want to hear about your grandma who lived to be 98 after surviving breast cancer for 40 years – tell me those stories, please! I believe there is great power in positivity.

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10 thoughts on “There is no magic reason

  1. This is very good……I read up on so much when I went through my treatment. I heard from everyone I tell to please self- check and get your mammo’s “it doesn’t run in my family”. Well my response was always the same, “mine either. But it starts with me”. Positive reinforcement is what you’ll get from me as we walk this path together. We are strong women and together we will empower each other and more women! Hugs my friend. You are truly an inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t chat on here a lot but know I think of you so often Gina! One more time – I’m an almost TWENTY YEAR SURVIVOR – diagnosed at 40, younger than you at diagnosis. You and I have a date to celebrate your 20 year survivorship and my 40 year at the same time ok!! You look great sweetie! Lots of love to you …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Geocaching Mackinac Island | Gina Karasek

  4. Pingback: … ended up pretty darn well | Gina Karasek

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