When Anna’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2012, we were upset. But we weren’t shocked. Age increases a person’s risk of cancer. Though in otherwise good health, she was in her seventies. She lived pretty much exactly as long as Centers for Disease Control statistics estimate for someone born when she was. (Statistics are tricky, though. At birth, a white woman born in the United States in 1950 has a life expectancy of 72.2 years. But if she survives to reach the age of 65 in 2005, her life expectancy is 19.6 years. In other words, the numbers suggest that the longer you live, the longer you’re likely to live.)
When our college friend Adam was diagnosed with brain cancer less than two years ago, we were upset and shocked. A white man born in 1970 (the closest year to his birth listed) has a life expectancy of 71.7 years. Our friend has a wife and two kids in school and should have more than twenty more years ahead of him. And if he were to survive those twenty more years, nearing seventy, he’d likely live another twenty after that. But he probably won’t survive to the end of this year because these seemingly objective numbers grow out of heartbreaking stories of being felled too early as well as those of longevity. Why does a person get cancer?
--Anna Leahy and Douglas Dechow, Lofty Ambitions Blog