The following short essay was written for a local Indy neighborhood publication when a friend asked me to guest write for her column. It will be published this Thursday, just a few days before I go in for the surgery.
I’ve been meeting with friends lately and this topic has, understandably, come up again and again – The consideration of my healthy habits in the face of stomach cancer. I’ve been asked how this happened despite my efforts and I’ve been asked if I still feel all my efforts were worth it. I could go on and on about this, but I think this essay sums it up sufficiently…so I’ll just leave it at that for now.
Health Before During and After Cancer
I eat only whole grain breads and pastas. I drink multiple cups of liquids throughout the day. I get eight hours of sleep every night. I get stomach cancer. I shop at Good Earth. I have a fulfilling social life. I eat very little refined sugars. I eat no meat. I consume no dairy. I eat multiple servings of diverse fruits and vegetables every day. I get stomach cancer. I run no less than 10 miles every day as a high performing distance runner. I barely ever buy packaged foods. I barely eat processed foods at all. I get Pseudomyxoma Peritonei. I buy organic at every possible opportunity. I eat leafy greens on a consistent basis. I’m 36 years old. I win marathons. I get stomach cancer.
When I was suddenly hit with the pain in my abdomen that didn’t subside after two days of rest, I was sure I had an umbilical hernia from the repeated stresses I place on my body from high mileage running and a physically laborious job. The CT scan, however, came back with a much different diagnosis. The surgeon informed me that I have Pseudomyxoma Peritonei, a rare, but treatable, form of stomach cancer that was going to require an extensive operation and a long recovery. It was so out of left field that I almost had no reaction to it at all, as if I was just told that my headache would require ibuprofen. Ok, let’s get on with it then.
I wasn’t angry. I wouldn’t even say I was shocked. Maybe not even confused. I simply accepted it and prepared for the next step in the procedure, almost instantly thinking about the recovery and getting back to running. In hindsight, I don’t think I had the reactions most would expect after being told they have a life-threatening disease because I couldn’t imagine I had done anything wrong, ill-advised, or otherwise foolish to bring this upon myself. It is a RARE cancer, which means the causes are entirely unknown, if there are even “causes” at all. Maybe this is just a process of physical imperfection. It’s certainly not from smoking, too much red meat, pesticide ingestion or any other “known causes” of cancer. I live what we understand is a healthy lifestyle.
Of course, the reaction by friends and family were, understandably, quite shocked. I heard the same affirmation again and again, “But how? You are the healthiest person I know!”
Maybe, maybe not, but I at least pay attention to my habits, because I understand the immediate value of health. Healthy living behaviors, for me, have never been primarily about AVOIDING life-threatening disease and degeneration. Yes, those are absolutely considerations in my habits, but more importantly, I live a healthy lifestyle because it affords me a greater quality of life in the very immediate sense. I gain a benefit from riding my bike everywhere and running countless miles daily by engaging in the acts themselves, feeling the pounding of my heart, interacting with the environment, sending spikes of adrenaline through my bloodstream, activating the neurons in my brain and so on. It just so happens that the physical activity also has health benefits that extend far past the act itself as well, but my concern is with my immediate quality of life. The same principle applies for all my other healthy habits, whether those are the foods I eat, or the emotionally satisfying activities I choose to partake of.
But that doesn’t make me bulletproof. I still got stomach cancer. And yet, the healthy life I’ve built to this point not only served me in the short term, but has afforded me both a positive mental perspective to deal with the cancer emotionally and a physical strength to aid me in recovery once the doctor’s remove the cancer from my body. Case after case has shown that healthy individuals recover quicker from surgery, their bodies primed to overcome the stresses involved, coupled with a positive mentality to push through the emotional struggles all the same.
It would be tragic to give up on a healthy lifestyle just because I got stomach cancer, to view the circumstance as if all my behaviors had failed, as if they weren’t worth it and I should have been drinking, smoking, eating bacon and watching reality TV all day. Something grew the cancer in my stomach, though doubtfully anything of my own doing, yet every active day, every wonderful meal, every rewarding friendship held it’s own specific value and reward in the moment. In that, all our healthy decisions have an undeniable value.
At the time of this writing I have yet to go into surgery and start the process of recovery, but when I do, I know the healthy lifestyle decisions I’ve made to this point will benefit me at every step. Cancer or not, my health has always been worth the effort.