The Young Ones

There is a misconception that Breast Cancer is a disease of older women.  How wrong can you be?  Whilst the majority of those who develop breast cancer will be over 60 there are many who are in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s who also have the disease and who die from the disease.  There is no right age to die at, only a personal awareness of when you consider it is the right time to let go of life.  Possibly the problem with breast cancer in younger people is that the over all numbers are so big that the fact that 20% of those diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer are under 50 seems to be a small number.  What this actually means is that in the UK alone in 2010 1,150 people under the age of 50 died of Metastatic Breast Cancer (http://publications.cancerresearchuk.org/downloads/product/CS_KF_BREAST.pdf).  In the same year 1,850 people were killed in accidents on roads and footways (http://www.dft.gov.uk/statistics/releases/reported-road-casualties-gb-main-results-2010/) and think how much is spent on road safety and trying to cut the numbers dying each year.  Think of the legislation that has enforced the wearing of seat belts, the safety of car design and build, the laws about drink driving, not using your mobile phone while driving … and that is before you get to any of the general road safety laws, rules, regulations etc.

Some might say that the road safety effects more people than breast cancer – but is this true?  Every human has breasts, but not every person goes out on the roads every day.  Breast cancer now affects 1 in 8 females of the species and although the statistics are much lower for the male of the species it is still a risk that none of us can avoid.  Is the devastation of a death on the roads any less than a death from MBC?  Is the loss any less because a death from MBC is expected, whereas someone may go out one day and just never come home?  Is the impact on a family somehow greater when a member suddenly dies?  Or is it harder to watch someone died slowly?

The answer to the last question is not an easy one.  My father died 19 days after my 18th birthday.  He had emphysema, angina, went blind with glaucoma and spent a large part of my childhood slowly dying.  My mother died of an aneurysm when I was 29, all very suddenly, went out that morning looking really well and died in the local hospital in the afternoon.  On reflection my mother’s death was a greater shock, but my father’s death had a greater impact on my life as a whole; but that is just my personal experience.  I think anyone who lost a parent to a life-limiting illness as a child carries that with them for the rest of their life.  For me this was partly because it was never explained to me, it was just normal to be carried in to say goodbye to my father in the middle of the night because everyone thought he wouldn’t make it to morning but I did realise that I had to do everything to avoid upsetting my father, that he couldn’t play with us as other fathers did and that it wasn’t solely because he was approaching 61 years old when I was born.  I actually learned more from doing an essay about gas-exchange in the lungs in a biology class I did on a course to get the qualifications to go to University when I was 42 years old that I ever did whilst my father was alive.  I came to understand him and his illness much better; in fact I actually learned that I was mispronouncing the name of the illness before doing the research for the essay – I knew and understood that little about my father’s health and cause of death.

Whenever I find out about the death of another parent of young children I think of the impact that this will have on the lives of those children.  I know that this may make things harder from the parent’s point of view, but although I have MBC I don’t have children.  I did have a father with a life-limiting disease, and of a generation where explaining to children was not a necessity.  After all my father was born in the reign of Queen Victoria in the previous century and although to a great extent his life had been rather unconventional (he was divorced twice at a time when divorce was rare and stigmatised) his child rearing approach was definately that of a man of his generation.  My friends had parents who were teddy-boys, at a similar age my father was in the Royal Flying Corps in World War One.

Stalin once said that one death is a tragedy, but a million deaths was a statistic.  But why is one death on the roads of the United Kingdom seen as a tragedy, but a death from cancer seen as a statistic?

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