The news outlets were buzzing yesterday with the announcement by the World Health Organization that Processed Meat Causes Cancer. The problem with news these days is that most of it comes at us in easily digestible sound bytes. Those snippets of news are fast, easily digestible, and almost always distortions.
I like this article a lot because it takes time to explain, in more detail, exactly what the meat causes cancer outcry is really saying: Here's why you shouldn't panic over processed meats causing cancer.
Here's an excerpt which put it in perspective:
Recent estimates suggest that, around the world, 34,000 cancer deaths can be attributed to diets high in processed meat each year. Diets high in red meat, which has not been positively linked as a direct cause of cancer, could be responsible for as many as 50,000 deaths per year worldwide, though it’s difficult to know exactly. By contrast, smoking causes about a million deaths per year, while alcohol consumption results in about 600,000 deaths each year globally.
So yes, eating a lot of bacon and steak is not a good idea. Cutting red meat out of your diet will lessen your chances of getting cancer. Vegetarianism is a great idea. I totally endorse it.
However, I will not be turning to vegetarianism any time in the near future. I cook for my mother and my mother loves beef. My mother eats red meat a LOT. She is 81 years old, soon to be 82.
We recently stopped eating bacon, but that was due to Mom having difficulty chewing it, not because it's bad for her health.
I think high cholesterol is caused by genetic factors. If you are genetically destined to have high cholesterol, I'm so sorry. Years ago I worked with a lady whose cholesterol was so terrible she had to take medication. She has not overweight, didn't smoke, and ate very very healthfully. I ate lunch with her nearly every day. Yet, she took medication to try and keep her cholesterol down, and they were still sky-high despite all her efforts. My dad was the same. He had to take cholesterol medication.
My mother, however, has enjoyed bacon and eggs nearly every day of her life. A couple of years ago she had to have a pacemaker implanted, and they did a heart catheterization. I sat in the waiting room, awaiting the doctor's report after her procedure. I was sure he was going to tell me that my mom was eaten up with heart disease. He came in and told me, his voice grace and serious, "Miss Thompson, your mother is a character." That was the first thing out of his mouth. I was so startled I laughed. "Yes she is, that's absolutely true," I replied.
"We looked at all the arteries going in and out of her heart, and there are no signs of heart disease. Her arteries are clean as a whistle, probably clearer than mine."
I just stared at him. He was in his 30's and had the physique of an athlete. "I run 5 miles a day," he said.
When I was in the hospital a few months ago and had a heart ultrasound, I was told my heart is similarly healthy. It just has an arrhythmia that's annoying, but the pacemaker has taken care of that.
Now, do I think that eating tons of red meat and processed meat is a great idea? No, of course not.
When I was watching the news last night, there was a doctor who was interviewed about the WHO announcement and he said basically that if you eat a lot of red meat and/or processed meat it raises your cancer chances by about 1%. Another doctor on a different network said the takeaway from the study is that people should eat healthfully, and eat junk food and processed foods in moderation.
I mention all this for a couple of reasons. One, the news media is too quick to be alarmist.
Two, I refuse to live my life obsessing over what causes cancer and what doesn't cause cancer. [In all fairness, I will say this: if there were a strong family history of breast cancer in my family, like one of my friends has, I would consider a preemptive mastectomy to cut my chances. I totally understand that.]
Cancer is a mysterious and terrible thing, but living life in its shadow is not the way I choose to live.
My father died of cancer. I watched the disease ravage him, and I watched him change from a strong, energetic man to a frail old man in a matter of months. I would not wish that death on my worst enemy. I look back on my life and it divides neatly into two parts, the part from birth to age 34, when Dad was alive, and the part since then.
I never thought I would have a personal encounter with cancer, but it happened.
A couple of years ago, in the summer of 2013, I had to have a hysterectomy. There were cancer cells in my uterus. It was Stage 1. The surgeon felt like she got it all. No radiation or chemotherapy were necessary. When the gynecologist told me, after a D&C, that I had cancer cells in my uterus it felt like someone had punched me in the gut. The word "shock" can't begin to describe it. However, I very quickly wrapped my head around it and it didn't bother me as much as it did my family. I simply knew it wasn't my time to die.
Don't ask me how I knew it. I just knew. I knew recently that my heart issues were not going to be fatal either.
Undoubtedly I will die one day, maybe one day soon, but I think not. I think I am going to live probably another 20-30 years. I am 53. [I eat a reasonably decent diet and I walk every day. I don't smoke or drink. I am working on making my diet better.]
Here's the other aspect of it, though. If I am wrong, I do not fear death. I don't. I have faith. I know I will see my father and my grandparents and many others on the other side.
I think when it's someone's time to die, they die. I think it's preordained. So there's no reason to obsess over it.
Michael and I were talking today about life, and the fact that it is, at times, very hard. "It's HARD. I don't really want to be here," Michael said. He is prone to dramatic statements like that but they don't alarm me.
"There is really only one reason to stay here and stick it out," I replied.
"What?!" he said, his voice challenging and angry as only a teenaged boy can be angry.
"It's simple. LOVE. That's what makes life worth it," I replied.
That took the wind out of his sails. Hopefully it gave him food for thought. He knows I love him LOTS. I tell him every day.
Rather than fearing cancer, or fearing death, I try to live life in a positive frame of mind. I try to savor the good things in life -- my garden, my writing, the love of my family, music, cooking, reading, my friends -- all the things that give me pleasure -- and ignore the yucky parts, or at least just pray my way through them. Plus I try to act in a loving way towards folks. That's really the best anyone can do.
I refuse to live my life worrying about my death. When it's my time, I will die. Until then, I intend to LIVE fully and intentionally.
"The cure for dirt is soap and water. The cure for death is life."