The Hand We're Dealt
One finding reported in that article really flew out and slugged me in the gut: "If a first-degree relative had leukemia, NHL risk was highest among women who reported a sister with leukemia."
I had a sister who died of leukemia. Her name was Martha.
This was back in the days when childhood leukemia was a 100% certain death sentence. Martha died on February 12th, 1954, a few weeks after her seventh birthday. I was not quite three months old.
So. Genetics. I never smoked. I always exercised. I ate organic broccoli sprouts and drank gallons of green tea. Cancer got me anyway. I know that some people look at cases like mine as an excuse to justify their own unhealthy lifestyle choices. Why bother? If cancer is already in the cards you're pretty much doomed anyway.
But I am sure of two things. One, my high level of health and fitness has helped me withstand the rigors of fighting this aggressive disease. For instance, without my good MUGA score, I wouldn't have been a candidate for the most effective treatment regimen.
And two, the odds of surviving my type of lymphoma have increased dramatically in the last five years due to the recent introduction of monoclonal antibody wonder drugs such as Rituxan. Every year my healthy lifestyle may have held the cancer at bay has significantly increased my chance of being cured. If lymphoma had caught up with me ten years ago, I would have faced a much bleaker itinerary.
Poor Martha. If leukemia had caught up with her fifty years later, she might still be alive. I was too young to know her, and every year that passes there are fewer people left who remember her. I've often wondered who she would have been, what it would have been like to be sisters with her. When my parents died, I salvaged a box of her pictures and papers, the things they'd saved to keep her memory alive. At some point there won't be anybody left who cares enough to keep these things. But for now, they're safe with me.