Our daughter came home from school the other day and asked if she could buy a sweatshirt to support a classmate who was recently diagnosed with lymphoma. “Lymphoma? Are you sure, honey?” “Yes, Mom. She sits next to me in my English class. I mean she did, she hasn’t been there for the past few weeks.”
The family is struggling with medical bills and the students at the high school have decided to sell sweatshirts to raise money for her care.
The unknown for the family must be driving fear, anxiety, and sadness. This is a time when their daughter should be going to homecoming dances, shopping with friends, staying up late at sleepovers, and visiting colleges to help decide where she wants to apply for the next phase of her life. Hopefully, treatment is a success and she becomes a positive statistic. One of those numbers that we take comfort in, showing us we are making headway, standing up to cancer.
With current treatments, more than 80% of children and adolescents with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma will survive at least 5 years, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The conundrum – the personal costs for cancer are not always shown in the statistics. The physical and emotional pain, the side effects of repeated treatment, the decreased ability to be productive, the stress on family and loved ones, the loss of income and life goals, and the reduced ability to contribute fully to their communities – these are not part of the statistics we use to gauge our success in “fighting” cancer.
If this same child were tragically hit by a car and critically injured or killed, we would be aghast, outraged, and angry. We would want to know how did such a horrific accident happen? Who did it? Was the person driving under the influence? Were they distracted using their cellphone? Simply and honestly we would want to know what caused the accident? I doubt many of us would be pacified with the recent advances in trauma care.
I have noticed recently I don’t hear the same outrage or questioning when someone is diagnosed with cancer? Sure, I see despair and sadness, confusion and shock, but very rarely do I find people asking – why? Why does this 16-year old have lymphoma? Instead, I see comfort taken in the treatments being more successful today – a reassurance that life will eventually get back on track for this child. As if cancer is an inevitable and unfortunate part of life.
Have we become desensitized to the disease? Have years of campaigns such as Race for the Cure, Stand Up to Cancer, and LiveStrong, raising billions of dollars to “fight” cancer, encouraged a false sense of reassurance that if we get the Big C odds are good we will be cured?
I am grateful for the efforts made by the many organizations working diligently to improve screening and advance medical treatments to end cancer. My family has benefited tremendously. I don’t, however, subscribe to the belief that chasing the cure is where the answers lie. Identifying the causes and minimizing their influence is where the real impact is going to be made in ending cancer.
Maybe the causes feel too mysterious, numerous, and overwhelming for us to address, so we choose not to push the questions why or how did a 16-year old develop lymphoma?
Maybe it’s easiest to take stock in genetics. As the thinking goes, some people are just more at risk because of their genes. Certainly heredity plays a role, however, if heredity were a main cause we wouldn’t see incidence rise rapidly over the course of a few generations. Our genetic pool doesn’t change that quickly. But our environment, that where we grow up and live, has changed dramatically over the past few decades.
In toxicology the reigning phrase remains – Dose Makes the Poison. We have more than 50 years of research buried in libraries throughout the world showing many of the chemicals we spray on our food and use to make our clothes, children’s toys, and packaging of our favorite purchases, have the potential to cause cancer. For some people, the dose of these chemicals has become their poison.
If we want to end cancer – I believe we need to seriously and collectively acknowledge how and where it starts. Along with racing for the cure, we should be standing up and racing to slow and eliminate exposure to the causes.
Copyright © 2011 Jeannie Moloo. All Rights Reserved.