Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Case of the Disappearing Cancer

I've been sent articles several times already about this Norwegian study that concluded that some breast (and other) cancers may spontaneously disappear, without treatment. I don't really have much comment of my own, because before I could really think deeply about the study, I read this fantastic response by a "skeptical OB-GYN," who writes a terrific, point-by-point analysis. Some highlights:
The study only looks at incidence of cancer. It does not look at outcome and life expectancy. If it turns out that the women in the study group have a much lower incidence of death from breast cancer, because they are treated early and aggressively, it will justify the apparent over diagnosis of breast cancer.
there is no way to tell the difference on mammography, or by any other technique, between the cancers that will disappear and the ones that will go on and kill the woman.
To me, these two quotes really say everything we need to know at this point. However, as winter comes and my summer tan fades, and I note in the mirror greater evidence of the premature aging effects of chemo; as I read on the web that a close family member's kind of lung cancer is often treated with Taxol, and I think back on the bone pain and the horrible allergic reactions; as I think about the months of my life "lost" to sitting miserably on the couch; as I think of the awfulness that is cancer treatment, I certainly hope that researchers follow up on this study and find a way to make the important distinctions. Let's get rid of chemo for anyone for whom we can!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

"Good" cancers

I've been gone for a long time. Mostly that is because of work--I've had a highly absorbing course to plan and then start teaching. I'm still in the midst of it, and it leaves little time for anything else. A little less, it's because I reached a point of feeling exhausted by the constant recognition of being a cancer survivor. It'll probably never be possible to see cancer as something that happened in the past, like that one embarrassing drunken night in college with my guy friend, which the two of us immediately pretended never happened; or the period of my life when I was unable to have an effective argument because I'd lose track of the logical flow of speech. Those things will never happen again. Cancer might.

Anyway, on that topic (somewhat), here's a blog piece that appeared in the NY Times today, by a guy with prostate cancer who rails against the notion of "good" cancer.

And let me just send a shout-out to a loved one who also has prostate cancer, but on top of that is in the hospital recovering from surgery for lung cancer, which most people would decidedly not call a "good" cancer. He is enormously healthy and I think he is as likely as anyone to beat cancer down again. (He had it once before, over 4 years ago, and was treated successfully with surgery--this is a new primary cancer, not a recurrence.) But again, cancer sucks. It just sucks. It keeps hitting all these damn people I care about, and even if they (we) survive, it still takes things away. Months... Years... Lungs... Breasts... And any illusion that any part of life is the smallest bit fair.

I want to end on that angry note, but I can't. I'm also enormously excited and have to acknowledge the election of Barack Obama. This is a man whose mother and grandmother both died of cancer. He knows the cost. In his infomercial, he said that his mother's death taught him that you have to seize opportunities when they happen, and suggested that that's one reason why he chose to run for President so early. He has a lot of critical priorities and I don't know where cancer falls on his list, but I can't help but feel hope, that this President really understands what a scourge cancer is, and how unfair and brutal it is, and how we absolutely must defeat it. Now that's a war I can get behind.