I have a friend who has pancreatic cancer. She has a loving husband and three extremely charming adolescent daughters. She is a dear, kind, generous, fierce and feisty woman. She has seen much of the world, but not nearly as much as we would like her to. The world needs her honesty and her fiery spirit and her laughter and her sweetness. Her family needs her even more.
Another young friend recently found out that her husband has metastatic renal cell carcinoma. They have a young son who has special needs. This is a man who is loved and needed. He is not a throw away, he is not superfluous, he is not unnecessary, he is not faceless and anonymous. He is not a place holder on this earth, just waiting for someone else to fill the space. He is unique, both to his family and to the world.
Another friend recently lost a treasured companion to cancer, a young man who had not even gotten to his forties yet.
My cousin was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the same time that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had bladder cancer in my 20's, even though I had none of the risk factors for it. My dad and uncle have had cancer in the last decade or so. My sister-in-law's husband had throat cancer half a year before my breast cancer diagnosis, several of my friends have had cancers of various sorts before and since that time. My parents have had several friends die of cancer in the last decade, others among their friends had children who died of cancer, and at the moment a friend of my mom's has metastatic lung cancer.
One of my fellow patients during this past three weeks is a girl in pigtails who tightly clutches her stuffed giraffe to her chest as she follows the nurse. She gets a colorful sticker at the end of each radiation treatment. Children have to be bribed at that age, in order to get them to lay still for so long.
Most of these people have little or no family history of cancer, many don't have any of the 'typical' risk factors for cancer (no smoking or drugs, low-to-moderate alcohol consumption, low consumption of junk food, etc).
One keeps hearing about the war on cancer, how we are winning it... but most cancers have had little improvement in treatment outcome in the last 30 years or more, and the incidence rates for most cancers have been on a rising trend over that time*.
And new treatments are being researched, studied, and/or approved at a slower and lower rate every year, so there seems to be little likelihood of our even fighting to a stalemate in this particular war. Not while the status continues to be quo within our current health care system - and make no mistake, the recent changes in the system do absolutely nothing to change that. In fact, it strengthens the 'standards of care' stranglehold that Big Pharma (and its weak rubber-stamping agency, the FDA) and Big Insurance have on us and our (currently barbaric) treatment options. It encourages the lack of, even the repression of innovative research and development.
And that's just research on potential cures. Research into the possible causes of this plague (these plagues?) is nearly non-existent. The interests of business and the economy (as important a subject as that is) trump the interests of our children every time.
Why is this acceptable? Why aren't we questioning our health care providers? Why aren't we yelling in the streets about this? Why aren't we insisting on better for our children and our parents and ourselves?
Are the lives damaged and lost really all that insignificant and expendable?
How expendable are you?
*According to American Cancer Institute report on SEER statistics, there are a few cancers that have stayed stable or lowered somewhat, but most have been on the rise to one degree or another. I was expecting a significant lowering of such cancers as lung cancer, due to a lower number of smokers - but no, lung cancer rates have been rising pretty steadily and strongly over the last few decades. Odd, and not a little dismaying.