I’m sure everyone who’s told they have breast cancer wonders how they “got” it. I’m no exception.
The strongest risk factor – other than being female – is increasing age. Not much I can do about that. Did I drink too much over the years? Probably, but it was fun, and didn’t we/don’t we all? Did I smoke? Yes, but that really was a million years ago. I think I’d stopped by the time I was 24. Being overweight, especially after the menopause? Definitely put on a few kilos these past few years.
In my favour, I’ve always been physically active and played loads of sport. But is that really all I’ve got on the positive side of the balance sheet?
Well, no. Exposure to oestrogen and progesterone can also affect your breast cancer risk. Again in my favour, I’ve never taken HRT and I breastfed both children for long enough for it to matter (any time over a year in total apparently makes a difference). The fact I had children at all helps too, but against me is the fact that I was over 30 when I had them. Also not great is the fact I took the pill for years. However, the increased risk with the pill, as with HRT, reduces when you stop taking it. Breast cancer can be genetic, of course, but even having two aunts and one cousin who’ve had it doesn’t put me in the high-risk category on that front.
More research is needed, but some studies have suggested a link between breast cancer and exposure to certain everyday chemicals. If that proves to be the case, then we’re all doomed.
Despite all the scare stories, no link has been found between stress and breast (or indeed bowel, lung or prostate) cancer. A lot of people I know will be relieved to hear that.
Given all of the above, it seems to me it’s really not surprising so many of us do get breast cancer.
But while I’ve wondered how I got it, I’ve never really seriously wondered why I got it or collapsed in a heap complaining that life’s not fair. That said, I am right-handed and I love playing tennis and the cancer is in the right breast and the right axillary lymph nodes. Lots of women continue to have problems in terms of shoulder, arm and hand strength and mobility long after they’ve had the same type of surgery that is currently planned for me. There’s also a life-long risk of developing lymphoedema. I can’t help but wish the “problem” were on the left side.
*Deep-fried Mars Bars – as seen in the first photo – are apparently a Glasgow delicacy. Just for the record, I have never seen one, never mind eaten one. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of them until I was in my early 30s and living in New York when a colleague thrust a front-page New York Times article under my nose in which they featured and demanded I tell him how they tasted!