A Three Percent Chance of Cancer


I first read the statistics when my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Heck. I first heard of pancreatic cancer when Dad was diagnosed. In 2011 I read that the average person has a 3 percent chance of developing this form of cancer, and it is almost never caught early enough to successfully treat. Patients have a 5 percent survival rate for 5 years. My dad did not beat those odds and died 4 months after his diagnosis.

Since then, I’ve known five other people to die of this specific disease: a close friend from my church, two high school friends’ parents, a former boyfriend’s mother and an illustrator I met through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I suspect I am noticing the cancer more because my father had the disease, but I can’t help thinking that’s an awful lot of people to make up 3 percent of the population. It makes me wonder if I’m overdoing the odds somehow or if this is what 3 percent looks like as it relates to my one life and the people I know. I’d need to talk to a statistician to figure if I’m ‘above average.’ I think I won’t. I think I’ll just plug away and hope not to see that diagnosis again anytime soon. It’s getting old like that song by Milli Vanilli my one time roommate played over and over in our UW dorm room.

I know what my dad would say about this post. He’d say it’s ‘pretty good’ but what does it mean? What I am trying to say we should do about pancreatic cancer?

I don’t know. Maybe it means I should join the Purple Stride Puget Sound, or maybe I should be working harder to spread the news about a fantastic new test developed by a vibrant young man who also lost someone he loved to pancreatic cancer:

This test, by the way, supposedly also identifies ovarian and lung cancer, two other forms that are knocking out my friends and loved ones.

Maybe this is what I am saying I should do. Or maybe I am saying I don’t know what to do about pancreatic or any other kind of cancer. Maybe (I would say to Dad if he could read this), I am saying that it makes me sad, this mortality business. Maybe.

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