Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thoughts About Life And Death

I received some sad news today. The daughter of my parents' friends died over the weekend after battling pancreatic and liver cancer for almost a year. She was only 32.

Just to clarify, she and I didn't really know each other. We met maybe three times over the course of her life. However, I do know and like her parents who have been good friends to my folks. I can't imagine what they're going through right now, especially since the mom's sister died in a plane crash not too long ago. Their lives were already filled with tragedy and now this.

This makes me wonder how much of our longevity is really tied to our lifestyle and how much is dependent on luck. The young woman who died was a health nut. She lived on an eco commune where she built houses and harvested vegetables. She ate organic food, recycled and stayed away from chemicals; even when she was diagnosed with cancer, she was very hesitant about going on chemo (and then went off it for a while). And yet her body rebelled against her and she died way too young.

Meanwhile, my grandmother will be 94 in a few weeks (knock on wood) and is hardly an example of someone who's into healthy living. She eats diner food every day, usually pork chops or fried fish. When she was younger, she smoked. Whenever I used to visit her she'd serve these salmon croquettes that were so fried that they were no longer fish. And yet she's always been tall and thin and somehow grew old maintaining all of her mental faculties and staying in reasonably good health. At her age, she can suddenly become ill or drop dead tomorrow, but even if she does, she still would've lived a long, healthy life -- despite the fact that she never really took care of herself.

Same goes for my late grandfather, who lived to be 98 1/2. He did not take care of himself either. He grew up in Russia, so his nutrition was poor (not that this was his fault) and smoked cigars as an adult. And he almost died several times. When he was 67, his heart and lungs stopped and he was pronounced dead -- and they freakin revived him! Then when he was 90, he was hospitalized with pneumonia and dropped down to 75 pounds ... and recovered and went on to live for almost another decade. He, too, had all of his wits about him and was able to walk until his last year of life when he had to have his leg amputated. I'm willing to bet that had he kept his leg and his spirits, he'd STILL be alive at 110. Yet he was another person who was most definitely not a health nut. I don't get it.

I suppose all we can try to do, though, is attempt to beat the odds. Anyone can get liver cancer, but if you drink a dozen beers every day, you'll probably increase your chances of having liver disease. Same goes with lung cancer; if you don't smoke, you can still get it, but inhaling pack after pack of cigarettes increases the risk. This goes for being overweight, too. I'm lucky because I have good genes on both sides of my family in terms of longevity, but being obese could shorten my life.

I don't know if we'll ever truly know why some people live longer than others when it seems as if the odds are against them. I guess I just have to do the best I can.

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