Now I know that every day millions of people die of cancer, so why should my mom be an exception? Sure, it's possible that, like the aforementioned millions, she just drew the short end of the stick. As her oncologist explained to me during Mom's three-week battle with Ovarian cancer, everybody has potential cancer cells lurking in their body, but for reasons unknown, in some people something, somewhere, somehow, flips the "on" switch. The switch certainly never flipped for that 124-year old Brazilian, a chain-smoking childless bachelor who was tagged in 2014 as the world's oldest living human being.
Seems that dodging cancer is a crap shoot at best.
Still, I've been convinced that Mom's cancer wasn't genetic, but environmental. She came from a long line of relatives notorious for living up to triple-digit numbers and without a single known case of cancer. A few heart attacks maybe, a stroke here and there, but no word of the Big C.
Mom had a really poor diet. She loved junk food and lived off canned and frozen meals; the more mysterious ingredients and preservatives, the better! And she guzzled bottled water like crazy, two, three bottles a day. When I learned that she stored the plastic containers in her warm garage, I warned her about the dangers of toxins leaching in the water and suggested she keep her water supply in a cool spot. But every time I went to visit, I'd find a six-pack baking in their usual corner of the garage.
Then there's the notable fact that every single family on my childhood block has experienced multiple cancer deaths. Our 1968 neighborhood was built upon a former walnut orchard...were pesticides to blame? Or was it the 1980 spraying of malathion used to stop the medfly infestation? Perhaps it was the asbestos in our popcorn ceiling or the saccharin we used to sweeten our coffee. Hell, maybe it was the red M&Ms.
The list goes on.
So you may understand why I've had my doubts about Mom's cancer gene just "suddenly" igniting. Now, I've added yet another contender to my many suspects and it has shot to the top of the list:
That's right. The delicious scent that conjures up images of gurgling, cuddly, chub-a-lub newborns. As far back as I could remember, every single day after showering, Mom would sprinkle baby powder in the crotch of her underpants for a clean, "fresh" feeling. When my sister and I entered puberty, we followed Mom's lead because Mother Knows Best, right? However, I always seemed to get that darned white powder all over my blue jeans, and my sister didn't like the feel of it, so we soon quit using it. Well into adulthood though, whenever I'd visit Mom, I'd always see the familiar white container of baby powder in her bathroom, right next to the Jean Nate, and would smile at her lifelong habit.
But I wasn't smiling when I saw a recent magazine headline stating a link between talcum powder and Ovarian cancer. When I Googled "talcum powder and cancer" my search engine exploded with articles from around the world, followed with lawsuits and ads from ambulance chasers.
Is there a link? The answer appears to be inconclusive, although there's enough concern to motivate the American Cancer Society to address the issue and advise that "research in this area continues." Regardless of what future studies may reveal, I'm glad my sister and I tossed the talcum.
Knowing the answer won't bring back Mom, I realize that. Perhaps it's just human nature to want to assign blame, point fingers, assign a culprit, and say in a loud, sanctimonious voice, "Yeah, YOU, you're the fault!"
And the incongruous baby powder is as good a suspect as any. At least for this rueful daughter.