Friday, February 7, 2014

"I Wish I Had Breast Cancer"

I saw this article a few days ago on "I Wish I Had Breast Cancer." It's written by Mary Elizabeth Williams. (I've linked to her before; I think she's one of the best writers on cancer out there -- particularly about the experience of being a cancer patient, since she herself has stage 4 melanoma, and is doing great in an immunotherapy trial.)

Williams isn't wishing that she had breast cancer; she's reporting on a British video campaign on pancreatic cancer. It shows some grim statistics about survival rates for pancreatic cancer, and features two people who were just diagnosed. The man says he wished he had testicular cancer instead. The woman wishes for breast cancer.

It's kind of an odd campaign, though I can understand its logic: if you have to get a cancer diagnosis, and you had a choice, who wouldn't want a cancer with better survival odds?

Of course, we don't get that choice.

And I've already written plenty about the whole "If you have to have cancer, this is a good one to get" thing. There are no good cancers. I'm not sure there are really any better cancers.

I certainly feel fortunate to have spent six years since diagnosis in a relatively healthy state, with only one round of a fairly tolerable treatment. But my case certainly isn't typical for NHL, or even for Follicular Lymphoma. It comes in different shades of aggressive, of course. Some of my fellow FLers aren't so fortunate.

And I cannot discount the emotional and psychological costs of having Follicular Lymphoma. Transformation is always a fear. There are days when that issue kind of clouds over me, and I feel like time-bomb. That's not fun. Sometimes I need to remind myself not to get too cocky.

Would I trade cancers with someone? I don't think so. Even a cancer that is curable, with a high rate of success, isn't completely curable. Everyone lives with that same fear, waiting for that magical 5 year mark. Everyone deals with the short-term effects of treatment, and the long-term fears of whether the treatment is worse than the disease. I wouldn't make that trade. Certainly not now. At least I know what I'm dealing with at the moment.

Williams brings up the larger point: we really shouldn't be competing with one another for which cancer is best or worst, and that's really what this campaign does. Obviously, an organization devoted to pancreatic cancer awareness is going to do its best to raise awareness (and maybe research funding) for its own cause. They wouldn't be doing their job if they weren't. But the message seems to be based on essentially saying "those other cancers aren't so bad as ours, so feel blessed if you get one of them instead of this one." That's just not right.

I always try to look for the best when it comes to all things cancer-related. So maybe the best outcome here really is that we have more conversations about cancer, its early detection, its treatment, and especially its research funding.

And those conversation ultimately remind us that we're all in this together.

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