Got Cancer?

During my usual scroll through Facebook this morning it struck me the number of recent posts from friends and family about someone close to them either dealing with cancer or having recently died from the disease.

I once asked my Mom how many people she knew when she was my age who had cancer?  Two people came to her mind.  One was an in-law who had breast cancer in her forties and the other a brother-in-law of one of her dear friends who had died shortly after being diagnosed with leukemia, also in his forties.  Two.

When I consider my close friends who I have known for more than ten years, I count 16 between the ages of 40 and 55, who have received a cancer diagnosis in the past five years. 16!

Some have told me I am just acutely aware of the cancer around me because of my husband.  I disagree.  Each of the 16 friends I have known well before my husband’s diagnosis.

Do I know more people than my mom did when she was my age? I don’t think so.  She was an elementary school teacher for 28 years.  She knew hundreds of families.  Cancer diagnosing has improved, so maybe it is earlier detection? Certainly that is part of it, but I don’t think that is going to count for such a dramatic difference – 2 for Mom, 16 for me.

Each time I hear of a cancer diagnosis, especially in someone middle-aged, I find myself focusing on the word ‘why’.  Why so many? Why so young?  We are good at asking why does cancer spread?  Why does cancer come back?  If cancer rates are indeed higher among the middle-aged compared to a few generations ago, we should adamantly be asking why?

Do your own count.  Unnerving, I know.  Count only your friends, who have received a cancer diagnosis in the past five years, are between the ages of 40 and 55, and you have known for at least ten years.  Don’t count acquaintances, people you casually know, or coworkers or neighbors unless they are close friends.

Chances are you too know someone close to you, young, in the prime of their life, raising a family, making a go of their career, who have been halted in their tracks by the disease and its treatments.  It is a disheartening realization to actually stop, pause, and make a tally.  See if you then find yourself asking, why?


Copyright © 2011 Jeannie Moloo. All Rights Reserved.


Jeannie Gazzaniga Moloo PhD, MS, RDN cared for her late physician husband through 12 years of blood cancer treatments, including a stem cell transplant, while raising their three young children. She is an award winning registered dietitian nutritionist and former owner of a clinical nutrition practice where she advised clients on healthy eating to manage heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and gastrointestinal conditions. She is a Ph.D. in epidemiology, with an emphasis in preventive medicine and environmental health. For nine years, she was a national media spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics providing sound, science-based nutrition advice to media, consumers, industry, and researchers. She has been quoted in several publications including the LA Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, and Parents Magazine, and appeared on ABCNews, CBSNews, NBCNews, NPR, and KYGO-FM.

Reader Interactions


  1. Chris says

    I hear what you say. The statistics are both empirical and numerical. I see it myself. The why is the problem… Environmental exposure matters so much… You raise some darn good questions here!

    • Jeannie says

      Chris thank you for your comment. Environmental exposures are often under appreciated when it comes to their causal relationship with cancer and they are often excluded from the conversations focused on preventing cancer.

  2. Trileigh says

    Well, I think part of this may be the new technologies that allow very early detection. I’m also a “survivor,” but the breast cancer I had was DCIS. Even if I hadn’t had the lumpectomy and radiation, the chances were that it might never have spread. I wanted to be safe, so I went ahead with the surgery. Now I belong to the ranks of those who have had cancer, but back in your mother’s day, I probably would never have known, or have been counted in that list.

    • Jeannie says

      Thank you Trileigh for your comment. I agree that enhanced screening has certainly been a factor in diagnosing more cancer and in saving lives because of earlier detection.

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