The Cancer Test by Rowena J Ronson and Nigel Summerley
Photograph, Tinkering by Rowena J Ronson
RJR: There is a new test that is about to become available which can detect if you are going to ‘get’ cancer within the next thirteen years. So my question to Double Take readers, and to you Nigel my fellow dialoguer is, would you take the test?
NS: Why would anyone NOT take the test? I just took a test for bowel cancer – and have been told I’m OK. I recently had a check-up for skin cancer (because I’d had a skin cancer a couple of years ago) and have been told I’m OK. I think many medical tests give false positives and false negatives, but somehow they’re still kind of reassuring when they tell you that you are all right. There are, of course, other more complex answers to your question. But what would you do?
RJR: It was a question posed on LBC yesterday but unfortunately I did not get a chance to listen to the call-in, or contribute for that matter. I suspect that awareness and funding play a part. But you are right, I am looking for a dialogue that covers the wider and yet more personal aspects of the discussion. With new knowledge that only 1% of our susceptibility to disease is genetic according to modern epigenetic science, awareness that there is a probability that we might create malignant cancers in the future, could be a good thing for many. I guess it will depend if we are realists or relativists, and whether we feel by living our life differently we can create change. It could be possible that knowing would create a defeatist attitude, depression, and an inability to enjoy life in the now for fear of the future. Or it might be that we will be empowered to do everything we can to take care of our health in the hope that by doing so, we will change our susceptibility and not allow disease in the future to flourish.
NS: Isn’t it the case (statistically) that in the next 13 years we all (or at least the older ones among us) have a very good chance of “getting” cancer. Do we actually need a test to tell us this? I suppose if the test is foolproof, then it would be irresistible to know the result. But, as you seem to begin to suggest, whether we have cancer or not depends to a great extent on how we choose to live: what we eat, what we drink, what stresses we put ourselves under, what environment we live in etc. If a test could tell us that we are definitely going to have cancer, maybe that would make us look at all these things more closely. I wonder if we might benefit from regularly having an official letter through the front door confirming that we are definitely going to die. That might also make us change.
RJR: I couldn’t agree more. I realised, again from listening to LBC over the last few days, that most people do not take care of their health or take responsibility for it. Those that called in and took part in the discussions mostly said they knew their lifestyle was making them ill but had no time to do anything to change it. And those that called to say they were reading What Doctors Don’t Tell You, and taking magnesium to prevent strokes, or meditating and eating healthily, were told that they were in the minority and most people will not go to such great measures. I was quite stunned actually. Because I am so aware of what is healthy, and surround myself by those who also know and actively take care of themselves, I did not realise how the majority consider a healthy lifestyle totally unachievable.
NS: It takes a bit of effort to know what is a ‘healthy lifestyle’ and, I think, even more effort to put that knowledge into practice. I think I know quite a lot about ‘natural health’ but I can’t pretend that I live the healthiest of lives. Like a lot of people, I try to do it – but in many ways fall short. The same goes for exercise – I have always done quite a bit, but I know that I could do a lot more. And then there is mental/spiritual health… and the same shortcomings. We can blame the human world we live in (which conspires to push us into the unhealthiest of diets and lifestyles) but in the end it has to be down to us. Perhaps we need a shock (like the prediction of a future cancer) to make us change?
RJR: I guess the same issues arise in our own awareness and simultaneous denial of global warming. We know we are damaging our environment to irrevocable destruction, but we continue to partake in the same ‘unhealthy’ behaviours…..
NS: Exactly. Will we always behave like this? Or is there something that could make us change? Perhaps that last question is a wrong one. The ‘something’ that could make us change is already here – the reality of our own deterioration and the deterioration of the environment. Do we refuse to look at the situation completely because we are concerned only with ourselves and with the short term? Or are we too lazy to behave differently?
RJR: I wonder if it is the survival part of our brains that keeps us selfish and short-sighted. A paradox perhaps, as it this very aspect of us – our will to survive – that will lead to our destruction. I wish too that it were as simple as the fact that we are all too lazy. We have so much working against us – so many mixed messages. Doctors, for example, do not consider there to be a link between nutrition and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. Are you surprised?
NS: I know that up until relatively recently many doctors still did not recognise the link between what we eat and illness, but surely that has changed now, hasn’t it? I agree about the mixed messages – even on what is good for us to eat. One health guru tells us one thing, and one another. I think it’s still the case that many conventional medics don’t acknowledge the link between stress and cancer – with most resources put into drug research, into “cures for cancer” – when it seems likely that many cancers could be prevented by a stress-free, well-nourished lifestyle. We are conditioned to think there is going to be a fix for everything, rather than think about taking care of ourselves.
RJR: I agree completely and welcome Double Takers to join the discussion.