The thing about cancer……….

sept2013

The thing about cancer is…….. you can’t “cure” it.  With all the exposure I’ve had to cancer in the last 7 and half years of my life that is the one thing I’ve come to begrudgingly accept.  Yes I’ve bought the shirts and signs and ribbons that say “hope for a cure” etc….  That was then.  This is now.

Why can’t you cure it? The better question is why have researchers spent the better part of 50 years trying to cure it?  IT CAN’T BE CURED.  It can’t be cured for one very simple fact:  Cancer is caused by changes in a person’s DNA.  We can’t “cure” our DNA.  Well actually, we probably can, but we probably shouldn’t.

Yes there are definitions out there that explain things like abnormal cell growth, rapid abnormal cell growth, abnormal division of cells etc….. But the one thing you can’t change in all those definitions is that those cells that are growing and invading and abnormally dividing and changing are already inside of us from birth.

Yes I know there are lists of carcinogens – things that researchers have determined can be responsible for cancer.  Or more specifically things outside of our body that can cause a cell to start being abnormal and dividing in ways it isn’t supposed to.  But (there’s always a but) even the known carcinogens don’t “cause” cancer – because there other factors like length of exposure, intensity of exposure and….. GENETIC MAKEUP.  Not to mention that some of the things on the list are hormones our body makes naturally (like estrogen and progesterone) and just about every chemotherapy medicine used to treat cancer is also on the list of known carcinogens that can cause cancer.  That makes sense right?  Oh yeah and estrogen and progesterone can help prevent one type of cancer but can also “cause” another type of cancer.

My opinion about cancer changed radically about a year ago – with 2 reports that were being splashed all over social media and all the news-tainment programs.  The first was about cell phones and brain tumors.  If you want to watch a mother who has a child with a brain tumor come completely unglued please bring up the fact that cell phones cause brain tumors.  The second was that American soccer players are getting cancer from the turf fields they play on.  You know the turf type fields they have in most suburban high schools these days – something about the rubber and synthetic grass.  It was cleverly devised with numbers and statistics – it affects goal keepers more than other players – and in all they accounted for 38 players (34 of them goal keepers) with some type of cancer.  38 players…. Nationwide.  By the way there are over 14 million soccer players (youth and adult) in the United States.  I’ll be honest I can’t even do the math to figure out the percentage there because it would involve a decimal point a lot of zeros but I’m sure you get my point.  However everyone I know saw that story and wanted to show it to me with the assumption I wouldn’t let Dawson play soccer anymore because it upped his risk of cancer.

Everyday 43 kids are diagnosed with cancer (this statistic is up from 37 when Teagan was diagnosed).  I’d say Dawson has better random odds of being one of those 43 kids than one of the 38 soccer players that developed cancer.  But the thing is… nobody knows.  It’s like a game of Russian Roulette with DNA.  I will guarantee you that not one of the 43 children diagnosed with cancer today has ever smoked 2 packs of cigarettes a day, used a cell phone excessively, played with asbestos insulation, ate too much of something or too little of something else, drank or didn’t drink coffee, wine, beer or tea, worked night shift (how many of you know that increases your risk of cancer?) or had prolonged contact with chemicals that have names as long as a sentence.

Did I happen to see an article today that said something to the effect of “25 ways to help prevent developing breast cancer?”  Yes.  Did it piss me off?  Yes.  Why?  Because working out 20 minutes a day and eating apples and avocados and cutting out caffeine are not going to prevent me from getting breast cancer.  Not when my risk increases 25% because my mom has breast cancer – and for the specific type of breast cancer she has my risk also increases another 20% because I’m half Hispanic.  So with those genetic odds working against me I have little need to worry about being overweight, working night shift, and the amount of caffeine I ingest.

There isn’t a cure for cancer.  There really never will be.  They may come up with better treatments – which I hope for daily because the current ones will kill you as easily as the cancer will.  And I’m sure if scientists can genetically alter an orange to taste better or be juicier they can also genetically alter an unborn child to prevent them from genetic mutations that cause cancer.  But then you get into all of the tangled ethical questions when you can control genes – you control race, height, eye color, hair color – and someone somewhere would ultimately try to use this information for evil instead of good.  Because some people just suck like that.

Cancer sucks.  There is nothing about it that doesn’t suck.  The treatment, the pain, the exhaustion, the life altering changes it makes to your body…. They all suck.  Worst of all is when (if) the cancer finally takes over more of your body than the doctors and medicine can control.  This is the part I’m at with my mom.  And it’s the suckiest part I’ve ever seen.

So the thing about cancer is……………

It sucks.

No matter which way you look at it.

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“When September Ends” — Green Day

September has ended.  And I feel guilty for not doing more to promote Childhood Cancer Awareness month.  Some years I’m more involved than others.  Mostly I just get tired of trying to raise awareness about a situation that if it hasn’t affected you or your family directly you’re likely to just shy away from it.  I get aggravated as we roll into October and every woman’s magazine on the shelf is decorated pink and features some celebrity who has either battled Breast Cancer or had a family member who battled Breast Cancer.  What articles did they feature in September?  Who knows?  But I know one thing – their covers weren’t gold and they weren’t featuring kids with cancer.

It’s not just magazines either it’s everywhere.  All October long you can buy everything from Chicken Noodle Soup to Chapstick to Mopeds decked out pink with pink ribbons and Breast Cancer awareness labels.  It’s not that I don’t understand the importance of Breast Cancer awareness – my mom has had Breast Cancer TWICE.  And because of that I’ve got a better than average chance of being diagnosed with Breast Cancer sometime in my life.  I GET IT!!  But I also want the all the media and consumer attention that gets directed towards Breast Cancer in October to be directed towards Childhood Cancer in September.

Wow I sound like a diva… I want all the media attention. 

But the reality of it is….. I’m not going to get it.  I haven’t in the past six years and I’m probably not going to get much more in the upcoming six.  It’s not that there aren’t national organizations or major companies that support Childhood Cancer it’s that there aren’t enough.  Off the top of my head I can name the ones that support Childhood Cancer:  Hyundai Motors, Chili’s, Glad, Asics, OXO, Volvo, Rita’s, Applebee’s, Old Navy, and Northwestern Mutual.  Hyundai is one of the major contributors with their Hope on Wheels project.  The other companies are involved through other childhood cancer organizations like Cookies for Cancer and Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

I shouldn’t be such a negative Nellie, because the list of supporters is growing.  But it’s growing slowly and I want an explosion.  I need to learn to be patient.  However in the six years I’ve been patient nearly 81,000 children in the United States were diagnosed with cancer and approximately 15,000 died from the disease.  But sadly Childhood Cancer is still considered and “orphan” disease – meaning a disease that has not been “adopted” by the pharmaceutical industry because it provides little financial incentive for the private sector to make and market new medications to treat or prevent it.  “Orphan Diseases” are ones that are affect less than 200,000 people – only 13,400 kids each year are diagnosed with cancer.  ONLY… listen to me!  For the 13,400 kids and their families it’s EVERYTHING.

From the day you hear “your child has cancer” everything changes going forward.  Your outlook on life, on death, on parenting, on family, on love, on friendship, on jobs, on faith, and on hope all change.  Anything you thought was important to you or in your life changes after a child is diagnosed with cancer.  And all any of us mom’s and dad’s out there who have experienced this is for other people to see what we see.  We want better treatments if not for our own children who are in remission for the 13,400 new kids next year.  We want more options for treatment, less invasive procedures, more specialists in our area ….  We want our kids to have a better life and a better chance for the future.  So every September we dust of our soap boxes and pound our drums and hopefully recruit a few more followers to help us promote our cause.

But back to reality. 

The reality is simple.  People don’t like to be reminded that kids get sick.  They don’t like to think about the hurt and pain kids go through while doing treatments.  It’s scary for parents to think that something like that might happen to their kid.  And because it’s scary and sad and heartbreaking people shy away from it.  Ok to be perfectly honest sometimes I shy away from it too.  But this year I saw something positive in our journey with cancer.  Teagan was asked to be a guest speaker at an elementary school for “Hero Day.”  Twice she stood up in front of 3 classes of second grade students and answered questions about having cancer, chemotherapy and being partially disabled on her left side.  Yes I stood up with her and helped her out with a few answers – things like medical terms and dates and timeframes – but she stood up and eloquently (for an 11-year-old) and very matter-of-factly explained what happened to her. 

This year a group of 2nd graders.  Maybe next year a whole school.  Maybe the year after that an auditorium full of people.  Maybe eventually Congress.  She is charismatic and has big things in store for her even though she can’t see that yet.  As usual through this journey she is my guide.

I’ve come up with a new plan for next year and hopefully I can get organized before next September.

GOLD is the new BLACK.   (hashtag) : D