Skip to content

You Gotta Die of Something

January 5, 2014

Very interesting graph published by the CDC yesterday.  I found it here:  Since 1958 death from heart disease has gone down by 68%,death from stroke down by 79%, and death from cancer down by 10%.  It now looks like heart disease and cancer are vying for first place in the race for What Will Kill You.

But something has to right?  Human mortality rates hover at about 100%, despite all the money we’ve invested.  The question most of us ask when we’re depressed or facing a tax payment or taking our kid to the 5th 4-year-old birthday party of the weekend is “How long do I have?”  A healthy lifestyle and good genes will only get you so far.  You have to die of something.  The numbers seem to show that a whole lot more people of dying of cancer.  Yep.  Because cancer is, in a way (please don’t shoot me), a result of aging.  Cancer cells are cells that have damaged DNA.  As we grow older our DNA gets older and more banged up.  If you don’t smoke, run 20 miles a day, take your lipitor and get your angioplasty on time, you’ll continue to live and thus, die of something else.  Cancer, probably.

Now I am referring here to cancers in people who are elderly.  The world of pure evil that is childhood cancers is a different story.  Breast cancer in 40-year-olds is a different story.  My point is that the “fight against cancer” is a losing one.  It’s like saying “the fight against death”.  What we are really doing is fighting against having our lives end in ways we don’t want.  We all want to die in our beds with our hair beautifully blown out, our adorable grandchildren by our side, quietly and without fuss of a massive heart attack or stroke, and preferably we don’t want to have to think about it until it’s done.  Cancer is annoyingly slow, and both the disease and the treatment cause a lot of grief.  Now that we have such great ways to treat heart attack and stroke, cancer looms larger as something to fear at the end of life.

It’s important to continue our search for treatments for cancer.  We might even cure a few types in a few people.  But we won’t beat it.  That’s why to me the more important numbers are the ones underneath that CDC graph: life expectancy.  White women get 7.4 years more than they got in 1958.  Black women 12.  We can all expect to live to at least 70, white women more than 80.  Compared with a century ago?  When life expectancy was more like 50’s?  That’s extraordinary.  That’s valuable.  That’s more LIFE.  What will we do with those extra years?   The Buddha is right.  If we embrace the fact of death we are released from the fear of how our hair looks or that our high school friends are still skinnier than us or that we will probably get cancer someday.  When I’m 81 and blue-haired and mean and subsisting on cabernet and chocolate chip cookies I want to be able to say:  “yeah I’ve got cancer but you should see what I did with those extra 7.4 years!”


From → End-of-life Care

  1. Birth is by accident but death is certain

  2. Adam permalink

    Death is inevitable because it is a statistical certainty that a death causing event will occur. Death always has a specific cause or set of causes. Nobody simply dies. Everybody dies of something specific. There is no death program, just imperfect self-repair mechanisms. Aging itself is a pathology. Healthy aging is a contradiction.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Ideal Violinist

By Bayla Keyes

Eclectic Voices

Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More

Competing Diagnoses

How Americans talk about health care reform

Navigating Healthcare - Patient Safety and Personal Healthcare Management

A Guide to navigating Healthcare for parents, children and spouses who are concerned with managing their health and the health of their family

Children's Book Reviews


Dr. Vineet Arora's thoughts on medical training, patient care, healthcare policy, with tips for trainees

Wright on Health

Making complex issues in health policy and health services research accessible to all...

Dr John M

cardiac electrophysiologist, cyclist, learner

Navigating the healthcare system


Navigating the healthcare system

Whole Mama

Navigating the healthcare system

medicine for real

Navigating the healthcare system

%d bloggers like this: