The atmosphere was tense. The ticking of the clock seemed to resonate through the entire house. My father sat on the couch—silently, deep in thought. As a small child, I played at his feet, only vaguely aware that something was different. The sound of a car pulling into the driveway caught my attention. Moments later, my mom walked into the house and wearily laid down her purse. Rising, my dad embraced her and then with strong faces, my parents sat my brother and I down and explained, “Grandma Nancy is gone. She is not coming back.” I remember feeling confused as I cried in my mother’s arms. It seemed right to cry, everyone else was, but the mind of a four-year-old could not completely grasp what had just happened.
Years later, we lived in a different state, in a different house, but the atmosphere was much the same. I watched my Dad as he stood solemn-faced. The phone made a distinct beep as he ended the call. I stubbornly tried to hold back tears. Just one look at his face and I knew, and this time I understood.
Cancer: such a simple word but it carries a deadly connotation. Webster dictionary defines it as “a malignant evil that spreads destructively.” The disease is extremely common on both sides of my family. One of my earliest memories is of cancer showing its ugly face. Neither of my grandmothers’ lived long enough to see me be eighth grade class president, get my first job or graduate high school. Our family’s story, however, is far from unique. It seems everyone has an aunt, a brother, a mother, a friend, someone battling this deadly disease. “Over one million people get cancer each year. About one out of every two American men and one out of every three American women will have some type of cancer at some point during their lifetime. Anyone can get cancer at any age … Cancer can be found in Americans of all racial and ethnic groups” (American). Cancer is the number two leading cause of death among Americans. Statistically, in a family of six, two will develop cancer and one will die. Even after billions of tax dollars and of thirty years of research, nothing has changed. The survival rate is still fifty-fifty. (What)
Given my family history and the above information, the statistical likelihood of me one day developing cancer is sadly high. Luckily genetics are not everything. Though they do contribute, other risk factors are far more prevalent. Lifestyle choices have a huge impact on who develops cancer and who does not. “The ACS estimates that one-third of the 500,000 annual cancer deaths in the US are due to poor diet and lack of exercise that leads to excess weight and obesity, while another third is from cigarette smoking “(American).
Research has shown that diets high in fiber and low in fat reduce risk. “All the evidence points to a low-fat, high-fiber diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans as being the best for cancer prevention” (Diet). While meats, animal products and fatty foods have been shown to greatly increase risk, vegetables contain cancer fighting agents. A purely vegetarian diet is best, both for cancer prevention and recovery. Vegetarians are at the lowest risk of any group, half as likely to develop cancer as meat eaters. There is also a large amount of evidence revealing exercise as an effective cancer preventer. In one study men, who exercised four hours a week reduced their cancer risk by 35 percent. (Diet)
If, despite my best efforts, one day I find myself sitting in the doctor’s office being given a sad diagnosis, I believe I would look at a variety of treatments. It seems that often people who go through the traditional treatments of chemo, radiation and surgery do not find success and have only added more suffering. Often it seems all the hospital can do is stamp you with an expiration date and send you home. I am not the first to feel this way. Rene Caisse was devastated upon learning her mother had cancer. “[I was] paralyzed with fear that my Mom would suffer an agonizing death… There were few options and they all involved the same deal: sacrifice quality of life and risk losing your life in exchange for a very small chance of being totally cured of cancer. The medical treatments available were dangerous and debilitating, and they failed far more often than they succeeded.” Luckily, there are alternatives.
Currently, I have taken a year off college and volunteered to teach at an elementary school on the island of Palau. I soon became aware of a very unconventional means of curing cancer: the leaves of a local soursop tree are made into a tea and drank twice a day for several weeks. Members of the community swear by it and dozens of people’s cancer has miraculously disappeared. Upon further research, I found there was truth in the locals’ stories. Research has been conducted on the plant since the 1970’s and results from over 20 laboratory tests has shown soursop to effectively treat twelve types of cancer. Ten thousand times stronger at slowing the growth of cancer cells than Adriamycin, a commonly used chemotherapeutic drug, Soursop selectively hunts down and kills cancer cells, leaving healthy cells alone. The results from National Cancer Institute research performed in 1976 showed “[Soursop] leaves and stems were found effective in attacking and destroying malignant cells” (Soursop).
Though cancer is a worthy opponent, it is beatable. James “Rhio” O’Connor is an example of that; he took his life into his own hands and beat his prognosis. Finding himself in a grave situation, he did not give up, accept his fate and die, but fought for his life. Lifestyle choices are far more influential on cancer than any other risk factor, including genetics. You can choose not to be a victim. You can choose a treatment option that does not involve pain and suffering. You can choose life. I believe the mind is a very powerful thing and a fighting spirit can make the difference between living and dying.
Works Cited American Cancer Society.
Who Gets Cancer. 24 February 2009. 18 February 2010.
Diet and Cancer Research. 18 February 2010.
The Gleaner. Soursop: A Natural Cancer Killer. 25 June 2009. 18 February 2010.
The Story that Won’t Go Away. 18 February 2010.
What Are the Top Statistical Killers. 18 February 2010.