Dr. Clark: I’m setting up a character for a massive self-reevaluation during the last 6 months to a year of her life. I need a disease that’s not uncommon for a woman in her 50’s. It should be a disease that cannot be blamed on lifestyle choices, and so is no fault of the woman. The illness can’t directly affect her thinking, so don’t say a brain tumor. I don’t want to use some rare genetic disorder. Any good ideas?
Consider Pancreatic Cancer, fourth largest cause for death in the USA, eighth worldwide. Peak age is 75, but it’s not uncommon in 50 year olds. There’s some speculation that 20% of Pancreatic Cancers may be related to smoking, but this is not certain, and you can make your character a non-smoker. No other preventable causes have been found, so your character cannot be held responsible. A family history of Pancreatic Cancer is felt to be a risk factor, but this cancer is not a genetic disorder. At the time of diagnosis, most patients have only 6-12 months to live. The 1 year survival rate is 25%, and the 5 year survival is 6%. Treatments are limited, and mostly ineffective. Pancreatic Cancer would provide a wonderful set-up for a character to re-evaluate her world in the final tragic months of life.
H.S. Clark, MD