I hate cancer.
My mother used to say it was wrong to hate anyone or anything, but even so, I hate cancer.
I hate the way it creeps into lives without warning and suddenly becomes the center of a person’s every thought and every fear.
I hate the way it sucks the vitality out of a body, leaving behind a wasted shell of flesh and bones, a shell that is mangled, scared, and almost unrecognizable.
I hate the way cancer lies, boasting that recovery is possible with yet another treatment, another series of tests, another long wait for results then dashes every hope in the blink of an eye.
I hate the string of broken promises it leaves behind, promises made long before it entered, promises made between lovers and beloveds, gone forever.
I hate that it claims our oldest friend or relative and with their death, we lose the last person who shares our memories.
I hate that in spite of the number of years since diagnosis, the thought of its return haunts every annual test, reducing the strongest to a bundle of nerves.
I hate the way it leaves behind orphans, no matter how old the child, and lost, grieving spouses who cannot imagine life without their mates.
Those of us working in the cancer world are supposed to focus on the amazing number of survivors and the undeniable connection between early detection and life. Both statements are true. Our job is to encourage when things look their darkest.
Most of the time I can. But not today.
Not after three months of hearing that another friend has been diagnosed, not after attending six funerals and not after holding another sobbing person struggling against broken dreams and lost futures.
In spite of all the current events focused on raising funds to cure cancer, in spite of over thirty years of listening to people talk about ending cancer and making it history, in spite of the flurry of pharmaceutical products so prominently promoted via the media, the only time I’ve thought there might be hope was last November. It was during the conference for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).
I don’t know which presentation sparked that glimmer of real hope. Maybe it was the amazing line up of researchers explaining another level of success. Maybe it was seeing the incredible results of immunotherapy and realizing that CPRIT funding brought Immunotherapy pioneers, such as Dr. Jim Allison and 130 other distinguished researchers to Texas.
I found affirmation from the series of reports that confirmed the efficacy of prevention and the impact of access to care. The number of patents that are pending and on the verge of approval was mind boggling and another testament to how close we are to a change, a revolutionary change.
With such focus and results, all pointing toward a cure for cancer, I couldn’t help but be encouraged. For weeks afterwards, I reached back to those presentations and felt true hope. Even now, I am reminded of a sobering truth. This world has faced health issues as formidable as cancer and found a cure. Think about it.
In my parent’s lifetime, tuberculosis was a number one killer—sanitariums were full, death rampant. It was the deadliest in human history, responsible for one in four deaths for almost two centuries.
In my own lifetime, we lived in terror of polio. Called the most feared disease of its time — it had no known cause and spread without warning through entire communities, crippling thousands of children and claiming too many lives. My own cousin, a beautiful ballerina, lived the last two years of her young life confined to an iron lung.
Today with antibiotics and vaccines, at least in the United States, both tuberculosis and polio, are virtually gone.
Dare we believe the same future for cancer? Dare we wish for that new discovery that would mean a cancer-free lifetime for our grandchildren?
I can. Because of what I heard and learned at that November CPRIT conference, I can.
At a time when too many life-saving decisions are being left to whims and potential gains of politicians, I sincerely hope that CPRIT is allowed to reach its fullest potential. I sincerely hope CPRIT’s fate doesn’t become a pawn in a game that will ultimately have no winners. I pray its survival does not become the source of endless debates, a heady topic volleyed back and forth in a show of power between parties.
I hope the stories of all the people who have been helped by CPRIT since 2010 will receive full attention. I hope the lawmakers will really hear them and not just tolerate their presence during public testimonies. If those people have the courage to stand in front of House or Senate subcommittees, sharing their most devastating experience and their deepest fears, they deserve to speak to an audience of open minded and interested people not to empty seats. They deserve thoughtful questions not the blank stares of bored elected officials.
In one of the most unprecedented moves in state history, the people of Texas approved committing $3 billion to the fight against cancer. That vote was in 2007. By 2009, CPRIT was launched and in 2010 they began to award grants.
The plan was for ten years. The approach was revolutionary. The goals were ambitious. Bond money, the people’s money, funded it. The people of Texas were willing to take the chance. They believed we could find the people--researchers, doctors, scientists, engineers--who were smart enough and bold enough to make this incredible dream of curing cancer come true.
Today, CPRIT stands on the brink of discoveries beyond our wildest imagination and has already made its mark through new patents for medicine and new proven courses of treatment. Unfortunately now is also when its time is almost up.
State lawmakers, our representatives and senators, will debate the need to ‘sunset’ CPRIT in the 2019 legislative session. Some are adamantly opposed to it continuing. They are determined to limit funding and watch CPRIT die a slow death. Those officials owe their very places of power to the votes of the people who will benefit the most from CPRIT.
Thank goodness there are other officials who support CPRIT. They absolutely understand the impact of CPRIT. They are the ones who have listened to the stories of their constituents, who personally know the people whose lives were saved because of CPRIT.
They are the ones who hate cancer as much as I do.
They are the ones who must win.