As a nearly 10-year cancer survivor, I am, of course, always eager to hear about advances made in eradicating or curing the disease. My oncologist recently told me about remarkable progress battling uterine cancer. Although I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, my doctor believes that genetic breakthroughs in one cancer might eventually be replicated in the fight against other cancers.
I want to be optimistic; I really do. I know cancers destroy many, many lives each year, while costing individuals, families, the healthcare industry and the government millions upon millions of dollars. So I know our nation – even our civilization – endeavors to beat this scourge.
But look. President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act of 1971, launching the beginning of the “war on cancer” – even if it wasn’t exactly described as such in the legislation. In fact, the law was designed to help find a cure for cancer by increasing research to improve the understanding of cancer biology and develop more effective treatments. The goal was to eradicate cancer as a major cause of death.
We see how far we’ve come in 45 years. I know that much progress has been made in the last decades. But forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical about the latest federal hoop-la. In his last State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced that he would put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of the government’s latest goal to cure cancer. As Biden said: “The goal of this initiative – this ‘Moonshot’ – is to seize this moment. To accelerate our efforts to progress towards a cure, and to unleash new discoveries and breakthroughs for other deadly diseases.”
The vice president was a natural for this assignment. He is still mourning the loss of his son to brain cancer. He is obviously motivated, and he’s passionate about the project. But I can’t help but notice how many oncologists and scientists who study cancer note that each cancer is different, and one cure won’t necessarily work for another cancer.
Combining research on various cancers might not be the answer to solving the puzzle of each variety. One thing I’ve learned in my journey with cancer is that even each case of ovarian cancer is different from another. The ovarian cancers that killed friends of mine last year were different from each other, and unlike my own. So much of fighting cancer is a crapshoot.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to believe that newer and better treatments are around the corner. Even since my diagnosis, there has been particular progress fighting ovarian cancer caused by the genetic defect that I have. My doctor and I have sort of joked for years that, if I live long enough, there just might be a cure.
Using the “Moonshot” analogy, then, I am reminded of President Kennedy’s words at the start of the space race: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade…not because (it is) easy, but because (it is) hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”
The goal to cure cancer, no matter how lofty, is certainly commendable and desirable and I know that I should support every effort to do so. I must swallow my cynicism and think positively. After all, that’s what people credit for my success so far in my “war against cancer”!