Calculating Cancer – What’s Luck Got to do with It?

A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor’s. After his checkup, the physician called the wife into the office alone and told her – “Your husband is suffering from a very severe disease, combined with horrible stress.  If you don’t do the following, he will surely die – make all of his meals from scratch, make sure the house is dust-free, not burden him with any chores to be done or problems to be solved, allow him to do what he wants when he comes home from work, and meet any other needs he has.  If you do all this for two years, I think your husband will regain his health completely.”  On the way home, the man asked the wife, “What did the doctor tell you?”  She replied, “He says you’re going to die!”

Well, what are your chances of dying from cancer?  For years, the general consensus of the medical community has been that you can pretty well figure out your odds  based upon two primary factors: family history and/or daily lifestyle.  But now a new study from the very prestigious John Hopkins University School of Medicine is completely challenging this long-accepted norm.  According to researchers there, after studying thousands of cancer case histories, they say – Yes, one-third of cancers are related to your family history and/or your daily lifestyle, but two-thirds of cancers are simply the result of a random mutation occurring from your millions of cells dividing again and again over a life time.  In other words, just good old plain luck.

This is helpful medical news because in my forty-plus years of being a pastor, I have dealt with a number of people who have been diagnosed with cancer; even though they have no family history of it and have maintained a basic healthy lifestyle.  They ask – How can this possibly be?  How can I have a tumor?  How can I be going to die?  I did everything I was supposed to do: proper diet, work out, regular check-ups, etc.  And the answer is – Because in two out of every three cancers, it has nothing to do with family or lifestyle, but with mathematical chance.  As one oncologist put it,

“When you consider the millions of cell divisions that take place over time in a body and it takes just one mismatch for a tumor to begin, the amazing thing is not that some people get cancer, but that everyone doesn’t get cancer.”

The bottom line?

David wrote in Psalm 16:6, The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places, yea, I have a goodly heritage.  The Psalmist was talking about what took place back in Numbers 26:52-56 when the Promised Land was divided among the twelve tribes by choosing lots.  David’s tribe, Benjamin, drew Bethlehem (the rich agricultural bread basket of Judah, as opposed to other southern plots that contained stones, rocks, wilderness, etc.).  And he  knew that (by God’s grace) his family had really lucked out compared to the others.  And so many (not all) cancers should be viewed in a similar fashion.  If I’m cancer-free, the lines have fallen pleasantly, and so, lucky me.  But if I’m not cancer-free, the lines have not fallen pleasantly, and so, unlucky me.  Good luck.