I’m sure many people were no different to me in the first few months after diagnosis, lying awake in the middle of the night wondering why cancer cells decided to take root in my body. What did I do, or not do? Was it the environment?, diet? smoking? (I’m ashamed to admit I did smoke a long time ago), alcohol? ( Yes! ), the Chernobyl cloud? (Yes…I wondered about that too at one stage!) or stress? In truth all of the above (except perhaps the Chernobyl cloud coming over this far in the World! ) have been noted as factors that may contribute to developing cancer at some stage in our lives.
Tackling all of the above were ways that I found I could regain control in my life after cancer. I figured I was too young to have stress but seemingly even positive life changes can cause stress in our lives. After some reading on the subject of stress I came across a stress test called the Holmes & Rahe Social Readjustment Scale . These psychiatrists carried out studies examining the possibility that stressful events might cause illness. Arising from their studies they devised the scale which lists forty three common life events in the order in which they have been found to be predictors of illness. Each event has a corresponding score. To find your score simply write in the values of the events in your life over the past year. Then add up the score and the final score gives a rough estimate of the chances of becoming ill in the next two years. Some may argue that it is subjective and some events may be more positive than negative, thus canceling the effect. Nevertheless, it is a well known scale in psychology circles.
Desperate to understand the reason for my cancer diagnosis, I took this test. I decided to look at two years before I was diagnosed in 1999. I can’t claim that this was a robust exercise but my rationale was that this test was a predictor of illness for the following two years. My score was 224 in 1997, high enough for me to take notice at the time. I had forgotten all about this test until recently and decided to take it again. In 2011, two years before my recurrence, my score was 264. The year that I reluctantly retired, which I found hugely stressful, I surprisingly scored 164 and so far this year I have scored 64.
What does this mean?
I can’t honestly claim that these scores explain why I developed cancer. What it does for me is make me pause and reflect. Certainly two years before each diagnosis I scored high. That could be entirely coincidental but this exercise has helped me to become more self aware. Perhaps at the time I hadn’t developed ways to reduce stress? Naturally as time progressed and life returned back on track I reverted to old habits.
Truthfully, I don’t know if I will get another recurrence. Taking positive steps to reduce any of the known risk factors for developing cancer help. It may be useful to take this stress test every couple of years just to take stock and make the necessary adjustments to reduce any stressors.
Note my score so far this year… I must be in a very zen state!