posted by Amy on Oct 31
I decided I couldn’t let “Pinktober” go by without commenting.
First, I got my scan results yesterday. This scan unambiguously shows significant improvement. In fact, most of the cancer is gone, and what’s left is smaller, less dense, and less active. I’ve had a lot of scans, and the week I get one is always tough, especially the time between having it done and finding out what it shows. The first scan, almost four years ago, was great. Having such a positive result right out of the gate made me hope I might be one of the lucky few who get a permanent remission. That hope was dashed with the next scan, and I had to learn to like phrases like “stable” and “no new lesions.” But I’ve been lucky. Even the scans with mixed results usually also showed no new lesions, and I decided that was my personal criterion for calling them “stable.” My particular breast cancer subtype is normally very aggressive. Before targeted treatments were developed for it, it was “the bad kind.” Now, at least in my case, it’s pretty lazy and slow-moving. If a scan is “stable” and I have a decent quality of life, then I can live with it.
I’m going to stay on this regimen for three more months or until the side effects become intolerable. I got another treatment yesterday, and I don’t feel too bad. Knowing it’s working makes it much easier to conclude that the side effects are worth it.
But it’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” and I have opinions. One aspect of it that doesn’t get discussed much is how it dwarfs other cancers. Did you know September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, and the ribbon color is teal? Not many people do.
The whole idea that we’re going to beat cancer with “awareness” is ridiculous. A few years ago Nancy Brinker, who was the CEO of the Susan B. Komen Foundation, the biggest of the “Big Pink” organizations, said she didn’t think the cure for breast cancer would come from a laboratory. That’s so patently ridiculous it doesn’t even require a response. Yet she has a big megaphone, and people listen to her. People whose lives are marred by other types of cancer feel left out. I don’t remember the source, but I once ran across someone complaining that she wished she had breast cancer, because it’s pink and sexy and popular. Thanks to Big Pink, breast cancer “survivors” get all the attention. Also thanks to Big Pink, people think we’re winning the “war” on this kind of cancer. You hear statistics about five-year survival rates in excess of 90%. That’s true but completely irrelevant. That’s because we’re spending billions of dollars screening millions of healthy women and finding it sooner. Breast cancer can come back in 6, 10, even 20 or more years, no matter how early it was detected and treated, and when it comes back it’s usually stage iv, which is incurable and fatal. People even confuse mammograms with “prevention.” Again, just think about that. It’s stupid.
We’re going to beat cancer–all kinds of cancer–with scientific research. The US is in the throes of forty years of anti-government ideology, where supposedly the government can’t do anything right and the magic market will fix everything. The budget for the National Cancer Institute hasn’t been increased in 11 years, which means it’s actually shrinking. Yet it was NCI that found an anti-cancer agent they named Taxol, which used to be made from the bark of the Pacific Yew tree. It’s now called Paclitaxel, and the original form of the drug was given the “popular” name of Taxol. Abraxane, which is Paclitaxel in a different suspension, in combination with two targeted therapies, is the drug that’s beating back my cancer right now. “Private” industry (and our for-profit health care system) has made billions of dollars on a discovery that we, the people initially made. There are many, many other examples, from every sector of the economy. The people who keep selling the idea that “big government” is messing everything up are lying. Government is how people collectively deal with issues–such as public health–that affect all of us and can’t be effectively or efficiently managed with private effort.
I’ll venture a guess that every single family in this country has lost a loved one to some kind of cancer. With a few notable exceptions, we have not yet won Nixon’s “war on cancer.” Instead of entering races or buying color-coded stuff or going for long walks, we should be putting more money into research, both individually and collectively. We spend under $5 billion per year on the NCI, about $15 per person. That’s ridiculous.
Finally, tomorrow is All Saints Day. In my religious tradition, it’s a time to recognize the “saints” in our lives, living or no longer with us. I don’t have a very detailed idea of what happens to us after death, but I think God is Love, and love never dies. Even when I thought I didn’t believe in God at all, I noticed what the Celts called “thin places,” where the boundary between our world and the next seems more permeable than usual. And, however you explain it or whatever you call it, loving beings–saints–make enduring, life-giving marks on those around them. Tonight I’m going to visualize all the loving, nurturing, kind souls I’ve known (including my dogs. . . .) and thank them for being.