Did you know that 1 out out every 2 individuals in this country will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime? One out of every two.
And that at least 1 out of every 3 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 65?
It is further estimated that this year alone 1,638,910 of us will be diagnosed with cancer, and that 577,190 of us will die from some form of cancer before the year is out.
That's a lot of mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, and sons and daughters.
These figures were published in a landmark study by the New England Journal of Medicine based on actual statistics compiled from 2007 through 2009. These are real numbers, not pie in the sky estimates.
I don't know what technically constitutes an epidemic, but that sounds a lot like an epidemic to me.
This means that if you have not been touched by cancer or know someone who has, you must live in a cave.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I did not hesitate to choose the most aggressive form of treatment ... surgery, followed by an intense regimen of intravenous as well as intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. I am a big believer in holistic medicine and alternative healthcare options. However, with a week-old baby and a new husband, I was not willing to take any chances. I would make other, more holistic lifestyle changes during and after treatment, but decided to bring in the heavy artillery at the onset. To cover all my bases.
I did not think much at all about the question of whether or not the treatment would actually work. I just assumed that it would. However, as I learn more about this disease and meet more and more of those who have been affected by it, I realize that for a frighteningly large percentage of us, cancer is often resistant to treatment.
I'm not aware of any recent studies analyzing the number of us with fallopian tube cancer for whom chemotherapy has failed, but for those with lung cancer, the failure rate has been estimated at 1 in 3.
It seems to me that cancer cells are running neck and neck with medical science, morphing to outsmart treatments as quickly as they can be developed.
Cancer is one crafty bitch.
I've become acutely aware of this as I get to know my fellow cancer fighters in the cancer community. Unfortunately, it feels like not a week goes by that I do not hear of someone who had been kicking ass and taking names in their fight against cancer, suddenly taking a turn for the worst, deteriorating rapidly and then, poof, dying. People my age and younger. People with great attitudes and active lifestyles. Vibrant, funny, positive people.
I did not understand this at first, and initially did not ask questions to try and better understand. I would spiral down the rabbit hole of fear until I realized that knowledge was power, and that being informed about the facts of a given situation might help keep blind fear at bay.
What I know now is that when those of us with higher staged cancer (mine is Stage IIIC, with IV being the highest) undergo treatment, and new cancer grows within us in spite of the treatment, it's not good. It means that our cancer is resistant to the best treatments, so more of the same likely will not help. This often leaves us to explore alternative treatments, sometimes experimental, sometimes holistic. Or trying to get into a study or a medical trial. Or all of the above simultaneously.
Continuing to try to cover all of the bases.
Now, some of these alternative treatments have been proven to work. I hear stories every day of dedicated cancer fighters who are able to successfully maintain or even eliminate their cancer simply by making radical lifestyle changes. And some of the studies and trials that are going on right now are having exciting and promising results. However, these options don't work for everyone. And it frankly scares the bejesus out of me to think that I could reach a point where one of the best oncologists at one of the best cancer centers in the country tells me that there's nothing else she can do for me.
This is simply unacceptable, for me and for any other mother or father, husband or wife, sister or brother, daughter or son. Actually, it's bullshit.
It's bullshit that we have cures for erectile dysfunction and a host of other non-life threatening disorders but not for a disease that takes out such a statistically high number of us every year.
I bring up all of this not to gripe, or to be gloomy, or because I begrudge anyone's use of Viagra. I bring it up to say that now more fully than ever do I understand the importance of fundraising for research to find a cure for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Not only that, I now get -- and have experienced firsthand -- the sheer beauty and strength of the cancer fighting community. Whether they are Pink Warriors or 3-Day Walkers or American Cancer Society volunteers or any other faithful supporter of any cancer fundraising organization, it matters not. Those who choose to dedicate their time and energy to fighting cancer and raising money to find a cure have, in some way, been touched by cancer. These beautiful souls are passionate, and they mean business. They aren't playing. This is, in more cases than not, their life's work.
After I was diagnosed, I had several people -- strangers -- reach out to me from the cancer community. They offered words of support and encouragement. They offered to answer questions about treatment. They sent cards and letters and chemo care packages. Their children made signs with encouraging messages. They sent flowers, food, and gift certificates.
At first I shook my head, not quite understanding why people who did not know me would take the time to do such nice things for me. But as the cards and letters and care packages continued to arrive, I stopped feeling confused and just started feeling loved.
Some of these "cancer friends" saw me through some of the most difficult times in treatment. They did not offer unsolicited advice, but were right there with answers to my questions any time I asked. They have been among the most ardent cheerleaders. Even though there are many of these men and women whom I have not yet met in person, I consider them to be real friends. And I hope to one day meet each and every one of them face to face, and hug their necks, and have my daughter meet these real-life heroes. I also hope to walk with them side by side, and join them in their efforts to raise money for a cure. Because now I get it.
This has to end.
Image via Mark Montgomery