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Cancer Is Not the Killer That it Once Was

I was born in 1958.  I am fortunate that my parents were very young at the time (mom just turned 20; dad was 23).  Both of my parents are still alive and I knew and loved all four of my grandparents.

The first of my grandparents to die was my paternal grandmother, who died in 1967 at the age of 62.  Her life was taken by colon cancer.  My paternal grandfather died eight years later of a stroke.  He was 75.  While one must be careful in making inferences from personal recollections (especially from recollections drawn from one’s childhood), my very clear memory is that both of these grandparents were old.  Even before being struck with their fatal illnesses, both looked old; both acted old; both were regarded as old.

My parents (now in their late 60s and early 70s) now are suffering health problems (stemming largely from their many years of working in a shipyard) — but even with these problems, they aren’t old in the way that my paternal grandparents were old.  My in-laws, who are each in their mid-70s, have also had health problems (including a serious bout in 2002 with lung cancer), but they remain in excellent shape.  Both my parents and my in-laws today travel and pursue hobbies in ways and with a normalcy that I cannot imagine my own grandparents ever having done 30 and 40 years ago.

When I was a boy, persons in their 60s were regarded as old; they were old.  Not so today.  One important reason is that cancer is not the killer that it once was.  As Gina Kolata reports in today’s New York Times

News about cancer, it seems, is everywhere. But, as statisticians
readily explain, impressions can be misleading. While cancer remains
the second-leading killer of Americans, behind heart disease, and while no one would make light of the toll from the disease, cancer deaths are on the wane.

This decline in the death rate from cancer is yet another few drops of well-being added to our prosperity pool.


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