By Allison Jewell

A few months ago, I received my cancer diagnosis.

In my case, I was born with it. Located in my thyroid, it had been developing all these years because my thyroglossal duct, the tract that moves your thyroid from the back of your tongue and into place, had not dissolved like it was supposed to. I was among 5% of people whose duct had not dissolved and among the 1% of those individuals whose duct turned into cancer. 

A week ago, I underwent the first and hopefully only surgery needed to eradicate this tumor. I spent all my free time researching every possible reason for this life-altering diagnosis and came across more not-fun information.

Fortunately, since I’ve just graduated from the University and hold a platform in my role at The Louisville Cardinal, I wish to use it to spread potentially life-saving information to a generation at odds.

I’ll just rip the band-aid off: the incidence of cancer in those under 50 has risen almost 80% since 1990 according to BMJ Oncology. These are strange findings, especially because cancer rates are declining in older generations thanks to modern medicine.

Being Proactive

For the general populous, however, this rise in cases trend towards a few specific types of cancers.

“Early-onset breast, tracheal, bronchus and lung, stomach, and colorectal cancers showed the highest mortality and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in 2019. Globally, the incidence rates of early-onset nasopharyngeal and prostate cancer showed the fastest increasing trend, whereas early-onset liver cancer showed the sharpest decrease. Early-onset colorectal cancers had high DALYs within the top five ranking for both men and women,” said the BMJ study.

These cancers — colorectal, breast, lung, stomach, tracheal, bronchus, prostate, liver, and nasopharyngeal — have caused a shift in the normal age of screening recommendations. Mammograms have lowered from 50 to 40 and colorectal screenings from 50 to 45. 

In America’s for-profit healthcare system, the sole recommendation of “going to the doctor” is sometimes a double-edged sword. The CDC reported that in 2020 approximately 20% of women aged 21 to 65 years had not been screened for cervical cancer in the past 3 years, and the average percentage of adults aged 50 to 75 years statewide who were not up to date with colorectal cancer screening was 69.4%

There are an abundance of socioeconomic factors that can prevent the luxury of a yearly mammogram, but if you are fortunate enough to have good insurance and a medical professional near you, visit the doctor. I don’t want to fear-monger, but little things could indicate a larger health issue. In colorectal cancer’s case, it can be something as simple as changes in bowel movements. In my case, it was a large lump on my neck.

Why us?

But why? In my case, at least I know exactly what happened to make me end up with a 7-centimeter tumor and a Joker-smile-sized scar on my neck. For everyone else, it is still up in the air.

A 2019 study published by The Lancet Public Health connects modern lifestyle choices to rocketing rates, specifically linking obesity and a higher chance of developing early-onset cancer

The current food culture in the U.S. gravitates to lots of chemicals and severely processed foods. Take the prevalence of the grotesque “chamoy pickle,” trend on TikTok, a jumbo dill pickle stained red from the sauce and copious amounts of Red Dye 40 that gets stuffed with spicy, salty, ultra-processed chips.

I can’t be the only one who thinks this is not normal. I don’t want to suggest the chamoy pickle alone unlocks the keys to the causes of cancer, but I am questioning the culture that both enabled and normalized this type of eating habit.

The overconsumption of trendy internet culture the youth has glamorized can appear like a long road towards a shortened future. Even though my Gen Z peers drink less than the generations before them, and are in the gym the most, this tech behavior is a recipe for disaster — and a for-profit medical system’s dream.

The moral of the story is to take care of yourself. You need to know your family history and how that might affect your health. Similarly, try not to downplay symptoms like many do and see your doctor. The reality is that these conditions prevail, and soberingly, start to touch those that were previously untouchable. The health that comes with youth is a gift, but is something that needs to be nursed in the long run.

Going forward, I still plan to drink alcohol and scroll through TikToks on my phone. However, it is important to instill discipline and balance in one’s life. I would rather cut back on beers than spend another month recovering from extensive surgery. 

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal