I've been on a slightly more elevated cancer-watch recently. It stemmed from some mysteriously aching (from what I gather) lymph nodes in my arm pits and jaw. The truth of the matter was that I'd treated myself worse than I usually do by eating and drinking poorly (business trips are difficult with a group of partiers) and not resting enough while neglecting my exercise. Shortly thereafter, I saw the results of my actions. If I weaken my immune system, I can guarantee an immune response in kind. That's the reality of your body. If you allow pathogens to attack it by decreasing your immune system's ability to fight, you'll notice the effects. Plain as day. My soreness has since subsided, and I have a little tenderness under the arm, but I've been prodding it to pieces, so I reap what I sow here.
The fiction I wrote for myself was that I'm battling some form of asymptomatic lymphoma that I'm just waiting to uncover at the worst of times. I have a routine physical checkup this spring so my HA mind says, "Hey, get ready for that big C-bomb!" Even sillier, I sometimes wonder, "Does thinking about cancer increase my chances of having cancer?" The answer to that is, logically, "no," but there is some truth to the mind-body connection (more on that in a moment). I've found the following to be reassuring and confidence-building in the face of so many potential threats to our wellbeing:
- Get your routine checkups. Most young people neglect well visits out of laziness, apathy, or just plain "I feel too good to go to the doctor." Or, as you said, "I'm too young to get sick." It's almost never about finding cancer, but having a benchmark for your health gives you confidence and allows you to improve areas in which you may be deficient. I love video games. I go in there and my blood test results are like my scores (or achievements, if you prefer). Highest good cholesterol, lowest bad cholesterol, normal WBC counts, perfect liver function. Those are my high scores. One is off? You have time to get in the game and improve them.
- Improve your diet. No kidding, right? If you eat well, avoid processed foods, reduce your sugar intake, increase your whole fruits and vegetable intake, and drink in moderation, you have a leg up on cancer already. Don't listen to my advice. Read a book to start. Then, schedule a visit with a nutritionist (you can find a reasonably priced doctor - your insurance may even cover it as part of your well visit routine. They like it when people take care of themselves as it reduces their overall payouts when fewer of their premium-paying customers end up with serious illnesses). Modifying your diet (notice I didn't call it a "diet"? That's a four-letter word.) sometimes takes being accountable to someone else other than yourself, even if it's as little as stepping on a scale every couple weeks and getting a solemn head-shake. That little scenario plays out in your head when you make eating decisions. It works.
- Exercise. Seriously. Another head-slapper. I know it's hard to stay active. It's hard to start. You find it in yourself to get moving. The more you move, the better your machine runs, and the more effectively it prevents diseases. Simple as that. Obesity is a killer. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes--nearly all preventable (even cancer) with some movement. That's a gift you give to yourself. There's no workout pill.
- Clean up your mental state. Meditate, create art, play music, listen to music, talk to your family, your friends, read a book. It's not about distraction, it's about creativity and wiping your mental slate clean every day. Negative thoughts beget negative physiological responses. The more you do to care for your mind, the better your body is at protecting itself. Stress releases hormones that cause your body to activate fight or flight reflexes. They're toxic in large doses. Minimize that dosage and you minimize your risk for serious problems.
Basically, you have the tools to prevent disease. If, by some rare chance, you actually are diagnosed with some kind of condition (I'm not even going to call it an illness, you already admit you're at a disadvantage by empowering the disease), you have the distinct advantage of being young with a presumably healthier immune system and a body fit for battle. Life is not fear. That's wasteful. Take control of what you have control over, and keep your machine in top shape.
Disclaimer: I'm not a doctor. I battle with HA (I'm in my late 20s as well) and I've lived the above for months now. I've seen the results and I want to help others to embrace life and enjoy it as I have recently learned to.
Oh, and as for the news? It's an industry built to prey on your sense of shock and outrage. They get viewers by showing the most morbid and atypical curiosities in society. They reported on a young woman with a terminal disease on an exceedingly personal level, but did they report on the dozens, or potentially hundreds of others just like her who made it through? How about those who live lives of prevention and health? They don't get regular spotlights on the nightly newsreels. It's not as widespread as they'd like you to think. Also, they bait you into further viewership by pulling stunts like showing this suffering soul and then teasing you with "Ten tips you can use TODAY to prevent cancer with our special guest Dr. Whoshisname. Catch that tomorrow evening at 6! Or, click over to newschannelyourcity9.com and read our special report NOW!"