PurpleStride Chicago 2014 & Cancer

Anna&MLLWe’ve been wavering as to whether we’d fly back to Chicago for this year’s PurpleStride to raise awareness and money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network—PanCAN. Anna’s mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2012, so we first walked in PurpleStride when Mary Lee was in the hospital. By last year’s walk, Anna’s mother was dead, and we walked again to commemorate her life, with family and friends gathering for a party afterward. PurpleStride happens on the last weekend of April—Mary Lee’s birthday weekend. So we want to repeat our efforts, but we have a jam-packed April and an especially busy day that Thursday, with the Intertwingled conference that Doug has coordinated and writer Pico Iyer visiting Anna’s class.

In the last couple of weeks, a friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer and another’s father has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Over the past several months, two friends have faced follow-up cancer treatment after lesions on their brains appeared.

We’ve booked our airline tickets for PurpleStride Chicago 2014. We’re going, and here’s our team page for Mary Lee’s Merry Ladies (and gents), in case you’d like to walk with us or donate.

National Cancer Institute
National Cancer Institute

Anna has also contributed to a poetry anthology for which all proceeds will go to the National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance. Tanya Chernov, whose father died from colon cancer, put the anthology together. If you purchase The Burden of Light, you set your own price because it’s really a donation. In return, you get poems that celebrate life and commemorate loss because we wanted to do something important with our words.

When we think about how our cells replicate perfectly over and over again for decade after decade, it’s amazing that things don’t go awry all the time. On the other hand, if our cells are so good at replicating perfectly over the long haul and our bodies are so good at compensating for tiny anomalies, why do cells ever get carried away and wind up as cancer? Cancer is one of life’s toughest conundrums.

These last few years, we’ve been thinking a lot about cancer—more than we expected or would have chosen. But maybe that’s inevitable: 1 of 3 women and 1 of 2 men are diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. As we age, our risk of cancer increases. As we’ve written before, however, numbers are tricky things, and cancer statistics are about the large group not about the individual.

For a 40-year-old woman, the chance of developing breast cancer before she’s 50 is 1 in 68. That’s a small risk—not even 1.47%–but we know personally at least three women of roughly our generation who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer before age 50. In real numbers—think of all the women in their forties right now—that statistic means a lot of women who will get a diagnosis at a rare, young age. For a woman who’s 50, the risk for the next ten years is 1 in 42, still just 2.38%, still a small risk. But that’s a better than 60% increase in risk over the previous decade, which sounds like a huge percentage increase. Indeed, we know more women who were diagnosed with breast cancer not long after menopause, including Anna’s mother. Luckily, most of the women we know were diagnosed early, and Stage I breast cancer has a near-100% five-year survival rate. That’s good news, and that’s also a result of the research and funding devoted to understanding breast cancer in the last several decades.

PurpleStride Team 2013
PurpleStride Team 2013

Pancreatic cancer is rarer (a lifetime risk of just 1.5% as opposed to colon cancer’s 4.8% or breast cancer’s 12.3% for women) and less well understood than breast cancer. That’s a big part of why we’re walking to support research. At Lofty Ambitions, we’ve written about pancreatic cancer, other cancers our friends have faced, and cancer more generally, especially in terms of how we perceive risk.

We hope you’ll take a look at some of our pieces:

PurpleStride Chicago

PurpleStride Chicago 2012: Research on Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer, Risk, & the Language of Loss

Cancer, Risk, & Otherwise

In addition, Anna has an opportunity to become a co-author of a book about cancer and communication. She is just beginning to sort through the project but will dive into it more fully this summer. Inevitably, sadly, cancer is a topic to which Lofty Ambitions will return.

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