Wednesday, September 29, 2010

September 29, 2010 - Watch Those Cancer Cells Get Zapped

Thanks to Betsy de Parry for posting a link on Facebook to an animated slide show about how targeted therapies (like Rituxan, the drug I received) first locate, then take out, cancer cells.

It's on the website of the National Cancer Institute. The presentation is in a lot of different segments. You need to click on the links in the menu to the right to move on to the next one.

It's nice to see those cancer cells getting zapped, even if it's only an animation!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September 15, 2010 - WLAD

Just what I need - another acronym in my life!

(Just kidding.) Actually, I'm glad to talk about this particular one. WLAD stands for World Lymphoma Awareness Day, which happens to be today.

And to think I almost missed it!

Not that it's any great celebration. It's just one of those education-and-p.r. vehicles, beloved of medical educators and professional fund-raisers.

There's clearly a need for it, though, because of statistics like these:

* Less than 50 per cent of people know anything about lymphoma, despite the fact that it's the 5th most common cancer, worldwide.

* Almost three quarters (74 per cent) of people don't even know that lymphoma is a form of cancer.

Check out the "Know Your Nodes" online mini-quiz, if you haven't already.

It's hard, sometimes, for survivors like me to explain lymphoma to others. It's a cancer, yes, but as a systemic (rather than localized) cancer, it can be hard for people to understand why the doctors can't just go in there with a scalpel and cut the bad stuff out.

It's also not influenced by any causal factors, like smoking or poor diet or exposure to environmental toxins (at least, not any cause that researchers have been able to puzzle out).

Apart from the occasional swollen lymph node protruding from the base of the neck or maybe in the armpit, if there are symptoms, they're invisible to most casual observers. Lots of people with lymphoma don't LOOK sick - except when they're getting chemo treatments, which can make them look a lot sicker than their disease ever did.

There are a lot of us around the world who have it, though, and it IS life-threatening (although, thankfully, we've got a whole lot of effective treatments that can keep it at bay for a very long time, even if some forms of it can't be cured).

So, Happy WLAD, everyone.

Be aware. Be VERY aware.

And do enjoy what's left of this beautiful fall day!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2010 - 9/11 Every 2 Days

That's the title of an article by Betsy DeParry, whom I've come to know a bit through the online lymphoma community, and through reading her cancer memoir, The Roller Coaster Chronicles. What she's referring to is a well-publicized statistic that 1,500 people die every day from cancer in this country. Approximately 3,000 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks, which means cancer brings about another 9/11 every couple of days.

Cancer doesn't garner the same level of response - and understandably so, from a psychological standpoint. The 9/11 attacks were sudden, brutal, inhuman - and completely unexpected for most Americans. They turned life in our country on its head, and we're still living through a lot of the aftermath.

We're wrapping up one war and still deeply embroiled in another. After conducting those wars in a way our nation has never prosecuted a war before - essentially putting the costs on a credit card, neither raising taxes nor asking for financial sacrifice from the general public - our economy is in a shambles.

More than that, a lot of us are living with a level of fear and anxiety we've never known before. The contentious, fear-driven debate over the construction of the Park 51 Muslim community center in lower Manhattan - not to mention the media's hysterical response to the bigoted wing-nut minister who wanted to hold a Qu'ran-burning party - is ample evidence of that.

I understand the Federal budget is so loaded down, now, with expenses for national security - and those programs are being administered by such a vast, disconnected profusion of agencies, funded in some cases by money from secret budgets - that no one really knows exactly how much we're spending, nor for what.

Betsy doesn't make any observations like these in her article - they're my own, and I'll claim them - but she does recall how, ironically, it was on the anniversary of 9/11 several years back that she received the single radioimmunotherapy (RIT) treatment that has kept her cancer-free ever since. For her, personally, 9/11 is a day of celebration.

That, of course, is an ambiguous legacy, as she herself reflects:

"Yet eight years after winning FDA approval, the two RIT drugs are still caught in the health system's for profit stranglehold that has limited access to between 5 and 10 percent of the patients who might benefit from them. That's like sending the finest emergency crews and state-of-the-art equipment to rescue 5 to 10 percent of the victims of any tragedy and sending the bucket brigade to help the rest. Wouldn't we all be outraged? Just as maddening, targeted therapies like RIT have been hailed as the future of cancer care, but interest in developing RIT drugs for other types of cancer has waned because the RIT drugs for lymphoma have not been commercially successful.

Cancer claims 1,500 Americans every day. That's 9/11 every two days. And it's simply unacceptable, especially when lifesaving treatments like RIT are available for some.

Yes, I'm grateful that eight years ago today, RIT restored my health and kept my family whole, but my celebration is tempered with respect for the families who lost loved ones on that tragic morning a year before RIT rescued me. And my individual triumph over cancer is overshadowed by sorrow for the families who will suffer so long as profit takes precedence over people."

Are we really saving lives with all the wild spending on domestic-security programs and research into arcane military technologies, many of which may never see the light of day on a battlefield? No one can say. Yet, it's far more certain that the money we're NOT spending, as a nation, on delivering health-care technologies we've already developed and tested to sick people who truly need them is causing more deaths than any terrorist attack ever did.

On 9/11, let us honor the memory of those who have died, and the pain of those who miss their loved ones still. Yet, let us also redouble our efforts at bringing life and health to those who can still be saved.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

September 9, 2010 - Defensive Medicine

The headline reads, "Cost of Medical Malpractice Tops $55 Billion a Year in U.S." But it's misleading.

It's not the cost of malpractice that's the problem. It's the cost of the medical world's hyper-defensiveness in trying to stave off lawsuits.

The troubling figure, according to a recent, comprehensive study described in the article, is: 2.4.

That's 2.4 per cent of annual healthcare spending that's related to malpractice, including medical practitioners defending themselves against potential lawsuits.

Think of it - you write a check to your doctor for a $35 copay. No matter how expert your doctor is, no matter how meticulous he or she may be about leaving no medical stone unturned in diagnosis or treatment, 84 cents of what you're paying that day goes to cover the cost of other doctors who aren't so good at what they do.

Multiply that by every check written to every doctor and hospital around the country, and we're talking some really big money.

It's not so much the bad doctors out there who are the problem. Their numbers are very small. It's our fear of them that's the problem. It's a fear that leads even the best doctors to shell out big bucks for malpractice insurance, and that causes us to pay big bucks for marginally necessary tests.

They call it "defensive medicine," and it's costly indeed.

I hope the medical reform now working its way through our government includes some measures to reduce the adverse impact of this largely unreasoned fear.

It's a lot of money. It's not the whole answer to runaway medical costs in this country, by any means, but it's significant.

Monday, September 06, 2010

September 6, 2010 - His Music Lives On

In some earlier posts, I've written about a musician, David M. Bailey, who's been an inspiration to me. David's a brain cancer survivor who, after undergoing treatment the first time, reinvented his life as a singer-songwriter. Except for the times when he's been undergoing further treatment, he's been traveling the country, sharing his musical message of faith, hope and love in the midst of adversity.

Today, I received this e-mail, sent out to those on David's mailing list, presumably by a friend or relative:

"David was moved to hospice on Friday, September 3, following nearly a week in the hospital. He has been surrounded by family, friends and loving caregivers and has been pretty comfortable.

There’s a day to be filled with music
and a day for all melody to cease
there’s a day to arm yourself for battle
and a day to calm your heart for peace"

dmb 1996

Back in the 1990s, they told David his glioblastoma brain tumor was supposed to have killed him in 6 months. He beat the odds, obviously, by a considerable amount of time. Now that it appears his final days are upon him, let's remember him in prayer, asking God for comfort and expressing gratitude for his remarkable witness of faith.

I regret that I never got to hear David perform live. I do cherish those of his CDs I own, though, and I know many others do, too.

There may be a day for "all melody to cease," but it will only be for the briefest time. David's music will live on.

"Well done, good and faithful servant."