As part of my ongoing attempt to become the face of terminal cancer (don’t ask; no one else is doing it, I might as well), I recently signed up with a brain cancer research group that’s soliciting data. Fill out the information, fill out the questionnaire. Great. Next, they want a blood sample for sequencing. MOTHERFUCKER.

This is the genetic equivalent of a Nigerian prince asking for your bank account number, social security number, and routing number. It’s unlikely that anyone would get any real use out of it, but, if you live in a country with private health insurance and/or are covered by private health insurance, any hidden genetic predispositions in your genome could be considered pre-existing conditions. I don’t know if the research groups/companies in question are willing to spend hundreds of dollars to sequence your genome for that information, but I also don’t know who owns/funds them, and I know that we live in an era of unprecedented white-collar crime, so stealing genetic data and patenting it (then suing you for copyright infringement) is not out of the question (If you think that’s totally ludicrous, I challenge you to get a blood draw and mail that vial to strangers). But all of this belies the morbid (and, as I’ve written, unhelpful) fascination with dangerous and/or chronic diseases.

I’m regularly inundated with questions about my health regimen and what I did to treat my cancer. There’s a million little factors in play, ranging from “lucky cancer” to “I just sleep as long as I’m tired.” At the end of the day, I’m still a disgusting sick person, though, so you probably shouldn’t want to do what I do.

According to the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, something like 45% of Americans have some form of chronic disease (which, let’s remember, ranges from things like depression and diabetes all the way to incurable cancers)(again, all cancers are incurable, there only cancers with multiple, safe treatment options, and those with limited treatment options). If you know four people, you know one of us. And not all of us are lining up to get our photos with the infusion pump, as I did, for similar reasons that Jewish people in Germany in 1938 might be hiding the Menorah — we don’t exactly live in a society that’s welcoming and friendly to us, and, for far too many, our well-being is so tenuous that all it would take to kill us would be a slight reduction in disability benefits.

So, instead of me ranting and raging about the social aspects of chronic disease, let me just subject you, the probably-able-bodied person to the sorts of questions most of us see on a daily basis (or I do, anyway; being a moderator on a few chronic cancer pages helps generate material). Also, I’m being a little crueler/ruder than most of these questions are usually framed to drive home the point. With a bonus question to cause a bit of the existential crisis we all deal with every morning.

  1. How/why are you healthy?
  2. Should you be driving on a regular basis? You might get drunk or suffer a heart attack and kill someone…
  3. What supplements/diet do you use to stay healthy?
  4. I’ve read somewhere that flossing regularly is linked to gingivitis, and Big Dental makes massive profits off of treating cavities. Have you ever considered “alternative tooth care,” and just chewing tobacco before bed-time?
  5. How have you avoided dying for so long?
  6. Are you worried about the fact that your life expectancy is a mere 75 years?
  7. How do you plan on dealing with arthritis and heart disease, when they come up?
  8. What is the secret miracle to staying healthy?
  9. How do you deal with waking up without any lingering fear or pain? If you don’t experience severe pain at least once or twice a week, are you sure you’re not in pain?
  10. Are you worried you’re just going to while away those boring, unused decades in a meaningless series of endeavors designed to distract you from your own impending mortality?

Written by

Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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