Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Two-Time Cancer-Slaying Super Model: Part II

Read this first:
The Two-Time Cancer-Slaying Super Model: Part I


Let’s say there is a particular female I am fond of. Probability says the same fondness is not mutual. But let’s presume it is. If said female were to happen to read the following, then her fondness of me would most likely diminish or cease. Based on the probability that she would be fond of me, as well as the probability that she would actually read the following, I’m sure there’s a calculation to be made as to whether or not I should publish it. But this is something I need to say, so screw it, here goes…

Super Model

I learned unimaginable statistics at the Second George Washington Cancer Institute Biennial Cancer Survivorship Research Symposium that I attended in May. The following comes from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study which began in 1994 and includes over 20,000 childhood cancer survivors:
  • There are 325,000 survivors of childhood cancer in the US (1/640 young adults aged 20-39) and less than half are receiving cancer-related follow-up care
  • 20% of childhood survivors smoke
  • 25% of childhood survivors binge drink
  • 65% of childhood survivors are physically inactive.
Those stats are peanuts compared to this: survivors of one childhood cancer are 11 times more likely to die than the normal population. The most common causes of death are cancer recurrence, secondary malignancy, and cardiac disease. The diagnoses most at risk are brain tumor, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and sarcoma. Check mark for me. The treatment exposure groups highest at risk are bone marrow transplant and radiation. Two more check marks for me.

It is possible that level of mortality is found elsewhere—like certain professions such as fishers or (just guessing) well-exceeded within the gay male community—but here is the difference: if fishermen stop fishing or if gay men stop having gay sex then their actuary life tables normalize. Pediatric cancer survivors can’t simply stop being survivors. Don’t even ask about survivors of two childhood cancers, as I doubt that research exists. You’re more likely to find someone who has had two childhood makeout sessions with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.

So is there anything we can do to rise above our actuarial life tables? I for one am not going to sit around waiting for that research to occur. 3.5 years ago I chose to give my lifestyle a makeover, which I’ve documented in this blog.

And so when I learned of those stats back in May at George Washington University I knew what I wanted to do in life: to be an advocate for life after cancer, to lead the way, to show that we can not only survive the disease and unthinkable treatments, but to thrive. We can choose to make the very best with what we have, to perfect what we can and stop worrying about the rest, and to face our unique challenges head-on. We may have to study/work/train/push/lift/run/cycle/try harder, but we’ve been through worse, and although none of us chose cancer, we can now choose to thrive.

Unfortunately, my desire to be the face of healthy survivorship for my generation will be contingent on me becoming famous, which I am not, and probability says I won’t be. But just in case, I’m going to train like a maniac to show that a two-time pediatric cancer survivor can annihilate most people in a contest of relative strength, and least body fat, and most muscular striations*. If you’re reading this and you’re a young survivor like me, then join me. I will be documenting my training and visual progress on Twitter @benrubenstein.

*Also, simply put, I’m a vain motherfucker.


“I’m disappointed in you,” my friend said to me. “I feel like you need to get your feet wet. You’re not living life to the fullest.”

It was five years ago that my good friend, Big Easy, shared these thoughts with me. We had been drinking and playing poker. He had also been dipping, smoking, and snorting narcotics. His disappointment in me was not directed at my lack of participation in drugs per se, but rather at me not engaging in a variety of activities that he and our other college friends were.

Comments like Big Easy’s used to affect me. I was torn between living a “normal” lifestyle and a healthy one. I’m no longer torn. Bone cancer, leukemia, Adriamycin, Cytoxan, fludarabine, vincristine, etoposide, ifosfomide, hip removal, an umbilical cord stem cell transplant, total body irradiation, pulmonary fungal pneumonia, osteoporosis, graft versus host disease, thalassemia trait, needles, MRI machines, x-rays, CT scans, bone scans, low left ventricle ejection fractions, low hemoglobin, high ferritin—all these things are not going to decide the quantity of my life. I won’t let them. Or, at least I will die trying.


Hillary St. Pierre said...

Wait: I thought we all had to die. I don't know how it can happen that survivors of one childhood cancer are 11 times more likely to die than the normal population, but since I have a cancer, I'm still screwed. :) I signed up special for your book, which looks great.

Benjamin Rubenstein said...

Ha! I appreciate your skepticism of my vague stat. I believe the statistic means that, all else being equal, and at all years post-cancer, the survivor is 11 times more likely to die in general than the non-cancer survivor. Of course "11 times" is specific, but the linear mortality graph is pretty consistent.

I've been checking out your blog for some time--it feels like I have a celebrity reader! Thanks for the support, and best of luck to you.