Wednesday, June 28, 2006


My sister Ann had a colonoscopy yesterday, and she's doing fine, thanks. Since she's had hers, she asked me when I would schedule one of my own. Obviously, I should do this--both of my parents had colon cancer. And it would be dangerously irresponsible for me both to avoid this procedure and to suggest that it won't do any good, anyway.

And I'm not suggesting that. However, I'm becoming more and more convinced that early detection of cancer is no more likely to save your life than waiting until the last minute. You'll either die or you won't.

Okay, my evidence for this theory is strictly anecdotal. But it's a pretty telling anecdote.

My dad was just short of seventy when it was determined he had colon cancer. It was a pretty easy determination to make, since dad, never a guy to admit physical pain or see a doctor, had waited until his left side swelled to cartoonish proportions, looking like a bladder effect from an early David Cronenberg film. By the time he decided that yeah, maybe he needed to go to the emergency room, he was in such pain he couldn't even move, and needed to be transported by ambulance.

So having waited until literally the last possible minute before even being examined, much less diagnosed, Dad had surgery. And you know what? He was fine. Yeah, he had to wear a colostomy bag, but the cancer was completely removed.

So, summing up: A guy nearly seventy, smoked and drank for most of his life, abused his body through a lifetime of tough physical labor, never saw a doctor. He gets cancer, lets it balloon problem.

True, after awhile dad had the first of a series of strokes that would ultimately incapacitate him, and he died of heart failure, and both of these were almost certainly related to the lifetime of abuse he'd dealt out to his body. But they were in no way related to the cancer...and wouldn't you have thought there would have been some complications from that? There are poor schlubs who eat healthy, exercise, do everything right...but when cancer appears, it spreads quickly and they're dead in no time.

My point is, life is a crap shoot. (And as my sister points out, when you're prepping for a colonoscopy, it's literally a crap shoot.) The comedian Bill Hicks (dead from cancer at thirty-two, unfortunately) liked to justify his hard-living ways by contrasting runner and health nut Jim Fix, who died of a sudden heart attack, with Keith Richards, who has abused his body in every imaginable way and is still going strong. And he's absolutely right. (Of course, Hicks was right about pretty much everything.)

Luck is with you, or not. You fall in love, or you don't. You get the job, or you don't. Good things happen, or bad things happen. You live. Or you die. Though I'm agnostic, I do believe there is a sort of guiding force to things, but I don't think anything but pure happenstance guides individual fates. We live our lives to the patterns of chance.

Still, I should probably schedule that colonoscopy, just to be safe.