Life and Death

Yesterday, on the way to work, I was thinking about death. Doesn’t everybody think about death on the way to work on a Saturday morning? I guess for most people, it isn’t the most comfortable and upbeat subject to think about. Especially, first thing in the morning.

I went to the doctor a couple days ago and he happened to mention that I would be a good candidate for the breast cancer gene test. This is a test women can take if breast cancer runs in the family. Both my mom and my grandmother had breast cancer. If you carry the gene, you have a 55-85% chance of developing breast cancer too. Even if you don’t carry the gene, you still have a chance of developing breast cancer. Regardless of whether you have the gene or not, early detection is the biggest key to survival.

The doctor was saying that some women who discover they are a carrier of this particular gene (the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2) will take preventative measures such as increased routine mammograms and certain medicines proven to reduce the risk of cancer in people with the breast cancer gene. Then there are women who decide to take a more extreme approach and opt for preventative surgery- a double mastectomy.

I have been reviewing these options in my mind. What if I take the test and I do carry the gene? I really can’t even imagine taking the most extreme approach to prevention (a double mastectomy) even though it reduces my risk of breast cancer by at least 90%. My reasoning behind it is this. Let’s say I had the preventative surgery. (Which a friend of mine pointed out, might actually be pretty cool, because then I would get to pick “replacement” ones) The surgery goes great and my chances of getting breast cancer decline substantially. As I leave the hospital, I step off the curb and get hit by a bus and die. Or, I don’t get hit by a bus and five years down the line I develop some other type of cancer and die. Or, I go on to live to the ripe old age of 93. I get to see my son get married, raise three kids and have years of cuddling with grand kids and great-grand kids and then I die. My point is… we try to control so many things, but no matter how good we are at trying to prevent certain things from possibly happening to us…death happens. When death knocks at my door, my chance of survival is 0%.

Preventative care is extremely important and I am not making light of that fact. Within reason, I need to do what I can to take care of the body that I have been given for a brief time. I need to get regular mammograms. I need to remember to do self-exams. I need to remember that the saying “you are what you eat” is a pretty accurate saying. I need to exercise. These are things I can “control”. Buses that seem to come out of nowhere…I can’t control.

So what does all this mean to me?

I need to live my life aware of the fact that today is the only day I am guaranteed on this earth. How does that change the choices I make? How does that change the risks I take? How does that change what I spend my time doing and who I spend my time with? No matter how many preventative steps I take to prolong my life, there are no guarantees. I don’t think about this fact in a gloom and doom way, but in way that helps to motivate me to remember that every single breath I take is precious.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Luke 12:25 NIV)

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