People Die Young And There’s Something Wrong With That

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David Rakoff, a witty and sophisticatedly funny writer, died of cancer at the age of 47. I’m not okay with that. I’m also not okay with Adam Yauch, aka MCA of the Beastie Boys, died of cancer at the same age earlier this year. Cancer is what’s supposed to kill us decades later because we’re not dying of other things at 47.

People die of cancer younger than that, too. My sister works with brain cancer patients and their families. She sees healthy young people – we’re talking physically fit and in their 20s – die. A family friend barely older than me is battling cancer. Children die of cancer. Dying this young can’t be blamed on lifestyle. There isn’t enough time for the lifestyle choices to build up to cancer. This is why there is Something Wrong With That.

Three of my grandparents had cancer, and two of them died of just that, but they lived into their 70s and lifestyle choices were obviously factors. Dying in your 70s, or even 60s, when you’re a heavy drinker or smoker or sunbather is an accumulation of personal responsibility. We still lose loved ones this way and if you say “I told you so” to someone who has died they won’t be able to hear you, so there’s little point in judging a person postmortem. Teach the younger generations the life lessons, which you can see organizations doing all around you, of what these choices lead to. That can be solved, to a meaningful extent.

But if people without a heavily damaging lifestyle die before their demographic’s life expectancy +/- 10 years, they don’t have a chance to prove that they took care of themselves to a point that (they thought) would help them continuously contribute to society and the world to the best of their abilities. If lifestyle isn’t a factor and people say “well, it’s probably genetic” that doesn’t resolve the injustice; it makes it worse. People don’t choose their genes, much like they can’t choose the family, economic, and social circumstances under which they are born.

And unlike the unhealthy-lifestyle folks, these people can’t choose their cancer either. There’s something wrong with that. We can’t fix it. There’s something wrong with that too.

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