It wasn’t an accident…

 

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Someone I used to work with died last week. We weren’t close and hadn’t kept in touch but it  was still sad and shocking to hear the news. He was young, super fit and healthy just a couple of years back when we worked together. A clean-living triathlete.

When I found out I thought maybe he’d been involved in an accident, some kind of traffic collision. In the city it’s one of the more common causes of premature death. Or maybe one of those completely out-of-the-blue heart conditions, the kind that take people during marathons and football games.  In the moment between hearing the news and hearing what happened, an accident is what I expected to hear.

It wasn’t an accident and what I’m about to say will sound strange. In spite of the trauma, an accident might have been easier.

He was diagnosed with lymphoma in July and spent the past few months in a hospice. Nine months from diagnosis to death. His world and that of his family undone in the space of three seasons; autumn, winter, spring. His wife and young daughter must be devastated and I can’t help thinking it’s really sad. Sad for him and sad for them. They’ll have some gruelling memories to deal with before the good ones find a way back in.

24 hours ago one of our news channels made a big deal of cancer survival rates. The report was positively beaming about 50% of people in England and Wales now living for ten years post-diagnosis. Cancer no longer needs to be seen as a death sentence is what the story said. The same story reported a one in two chance of living (dying) within 10 years of diagnosis as a vast improvement on the 1970’s position. Back then 24% could expect to live for 10 years.

News of a co-workers death from cancer in less than year just one day after this inappropriately upbeat national TV story seems hopelessly ironic. I don’t deny the numbers reflect some progress for the better, but I can’t shake the thought that creeping from 24 to 50% ten-year survival during the course of almost 45 years is extremely slow. Life threateningly slow. The kind of progress that earns a ‘must try harder’ comment on an end of term report.

It wasn’t an accident that we invented the large hadron collider, wi-fi, hybrid cars and protease inhibitors in the last 25 years. We verified the existence of dark matter and down-graded Pluto to a dwarf planet too. But when it comes to cancer we’re supposed to be pleased by a 50% ten-year survival statistic that’s taken 40+ years to achieve? It’s a statistic that means 50% of people, including my ex-colleague, still can’t expect to see their kids grow up, have kids of their own or spend time with their grandchildren.

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11 thoughts on “It wasn’t an accident…

  1. dear Tracy,

    after watching that rah-rah TV news story, touting the ridiculous…in the face of your finding out about the death of such a young man, a father, a husband…just imagining the gamut of emotions you’ve felt, from deep sadness to outrage to frustration and loss…I am so sorry. the points you brought up about the sorely missing and underfunded research for cancer when so much has been discovered in other scientific endeavors paints a picture of stark contrast that is bewildering and maddening. I appreciate the fine job you have done with this post, using your voice to inform and tell the truth.

    love,

    Karen xoxo

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    • Thank you Karen, you’re always a beacon of light in this foggy and confusing world of cancer and a source of strength. There is an overload of emotion when confronted with these stark extremes and a reality which, for far too many of us, is not the rose tinted future the media would have us believe. I am saddened for all those who develop incurable cancers and for everyone who goes on to develop mets because this kind of news denies their story when it very much needs to be heard. Sending love xoxox

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    • Something about it bothers me deeply. I understand the science and the fact that cancer is extremely complex, almost an individual disease for every one of us unlucky enough to develop it so finding a cure will take time. (And what about prevention – which surely has to be more cost effective than cure in the long run?) I don’t understand how we have made such astonishing progress in other areas in a much shorter time frame and wonder if we ought to be pooling resources more effectively to drive faster outcomes, especially as 1 in 3 of us are now expected to develop cancer at some point…

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  2. It’s incredibly sad and is another of those situations where no matter what someone does – fitness, lifestyle, exercise – cancer still reared its ugly head and came out on top. Such a needless loss.

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  3. This is a very sad but enlightening story Tracy. Progress in medical research seems to be painfully slow when compared to other less important (but more financially profitable) endeavours. If only ‘people’ mattered more than material gain, but there I go, dreaming again!
    Love always. Dad xxx

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    • Keep dreaming Dad, you never know, one day those dreams just might come true. In the meantime we can keep raising awareness and highlighting how much more work there is to do… and how under-invested it is. Sending you much love too xxx

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  4. How sad, this is incredibly slow progress considering that now there is only a 50/50 chance that one will live 10 years with a cancer diagnosis. I wish they would speed things along for everyone’s sake.

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    • It is shockingly slow, especially given the rate at which other areas of science have progressed. The picture is even murkier than the news report indicated when you dig into it. Some forms of cancer still have only 1% of people surviving for 10 years while at the other end of the spectrum there are cancers where the likely survival rate is closer to 80%. I find it difficult to see how anyone can say cancer is no longer a death sentence – even 80% survival isn’t great for the other 20% and their loved ones.

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  5. I am so sorry to hear this. It is a loss for you no matter if there was a bit of distance between you. For his family, I can’t imagine the heartache.

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