First, let me say, I’ve never been a problem drinker. I mostly just drank on the Jewish holidays, or when I visited my mother (my stepfather collects wine).
Second, you need to know that both my parents died of cancer. My father died of pancreatic cancer 3 months after diagnosis, when I was 30, and my mother died of ovarian cancer 4 years after diagnosis when I was 50. 50 is not a child. It’s middle-aged, and well into middle-aged, but it’s still young to have lost both of your parents.
There’s other cancer in the family. My father’s sister died of a very aggressive form of stomach cancer, and my paternal grandmother had breast cancer, albeit, she had it in her early 70s, and survived almost 20 years after her diagnosis, so essentially, she was “cured.” But she did have to have a mastectomy-- it was the 1970s.
So, I listen to NPR in the car. I’m not big on music. About 4 months ago, I heard a piece about a woman who had written a book on the relationship between breast cancer and alcohol consumption, about which there appears to be no doubt: alcohol consumption can raise your risk for it by 5-15%, depending on how much you drink, and that’s independent of other risk factors.
I went home and immediately did some research. It seems the WHO classifies alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen. The International Agency for Research on Cancer declared it a carcinogen back in 1988. A causal relationship exists between alcohol consumption and cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colo-rectum, liver, breast, and pancreas. There’re also links between alcohol consumption and leukemia and multiple myeloma.
That scared the crap out of me. I decided not to drink anymore right there and then.
The thing is, none of this seems to be in dispute. It was all pretty easy information to find, with multiple sources. None of it smacked of a conspiracy theory, with just a few uncited sources, and lots of debunking. In fact, I deliberately looked for debunkers, and found NONE. All the sources for the information I did find were well-supported with data.
So why am I just finding out about this now? I’m 51. I was 21 in 1988-- why didn’t I hear anything then?
The truth is, I don’t especially fear dying relatively young. I made it to fifty, so I can’t die REALLY young anymore. I could die in my sixties, like my father, or my 70s, like my mother, and honestly, that would be better than having the last three years of my maternal grandmother’s life. She nearly made it to 100, and did well until about 93-94, but the last few years were not good. She couldn’t live independently, and she hated it.
But my father’s death was awful. He suffered for weeks. Every day, he’d lose something, another ability, to walk, to speak, to use the toilet, and finally to understand what was said to him. My mother literally starved to death when her cancer metastasized to her intestines, and she couldn’t keep food down. She refused IV hydration to speed things up, and was on heavy painkillers.
So, I really don’t want to die of cancer. I’d rather be hit by a bus.
Seriously: if I get cancer, I’m buying a gun.
But Plan A is not to get cancer. So toward that end, I quit drinking.