December 19, 2014

Random Acts… How we ignore the cancer epidemic

Posted in Health at 4:04 am by dinaheng

A close relative and I have a running joke that we always eat the same things, so we have no idea what to make for dinner. But over the last few months, my relative has been eating less and less.

She found it hard to keep food down, and it became increasingly hard to swallow. After trying acid reducers to no avail, she decided to see a doctor. The diagnosis was stomach cancer. We’re now waiting for her test results to be evaluated, and a treatment regime to begin.

No one wants to think about scary diseases like cancer – until it happens to you, or someone you love. In the last three years, one of my aunts had liver cancer, another aunt had breast cancer; a male friend was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a girlfriend with ovarian cancer. The day I told my friend Jonelle about this latest relative’s cancer, Jonelle told me that she has colon cancer.Dinah Eng

Is it just coincidence, or is cancer the epidemic we’re quietly ignoring?

Based on rates from 2009 to 2011, nearly 41 percent of Americans born today will be diagnosed with cancer at some time during their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. Forty-one percent.

We screamed in panic when victims of the Ebola virus came to the United States for treatment for the disease that has no known cure. Three months later, when the country was declared free of known Ebola cases, two victims had died, and the public uproar quickly subsided.

Are we so used to hearing about various cancers that we’ve become blasé about their existence? Do we now ignore the rigor and side effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery because we’re not the ones having to endure them?

Forty-one percent of the U.S. population will not be able to ignore the ramifications of cancer in the coming years. If cancer has not touched your life, it will probably affect someone you know or love. Researchers say there are many potential causes for the disease – a polluted environment, poor diet, genetics, and the ever-present “unknown” factors.

I’m a huge believer in the mind-body-spirit connection. In order to stay healthy, we have to take care of ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. If any one of those areas is out of whack, we’re more likely to get sick. Yet trying to stay healthy as an individual isn’t enough when many businesses are focused on making profits, often by ignoring the ways their practices and products affect our air, water, and food supply.

I have no idea how close we are to finding the cure for various cancers, but I have no doubt that drug companies don’t want to lose the profits made from drugs currently on the market, and take every opportunity to charge what the market will bear for new treatments.

For example, in a recent 60 Minutes interview with Dr. Leonard Saltz, chief of gastrointestinal oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Saltz noted that in 2012, the leading cancer center rejected the use of Zaltrap, a drug for treating advanced colon cancer, because the new drug’s cost was twice that of Avastin, another drug already on the market.

Research showed that when given with chemotherapy, Zaltrap’s results were the same as Avastin, with no fewer side effects or particular benefits to explain its cost of $11,000 per month, more than twice the cost of using Avastin at $5,000.

After the Sloan Kettering decision was reported in The New York Times, the manufacturer of Zaltrap cut the drug’s price in half.

Yes, companies need to – and should – make a reasonable profit, no matter what they sell. But controlling the cost of medicine and hiding behind phrases like “the high cost of innovation,” is simply preying on sick people who have no choice but to pay the price, or die.

Why is cancer so prevalent now? The reasons are many, including the fact that we’re living longer, and our bodies tend to break down over time. Dealing with this is not easy – for the patients, their caregivers, or the medical community. If there is a blessing in all this, it is the opportunity that cancer creates to look deeply at ourselves, as individuals and as a society.

“My personal journey has taken me through the dark night of the soul to a deep gratitude for all of life’s blessings,” says my friend Robin, who is currently undergoing treatment for uterine cancer. “This unwelcome life class has taught me many things – particularly about what courage means, and the importance of being positive and helping yourself through the practical aspects of illness.”

The more cancer pervades our society, the more we will be forced to confront what our priorities really are. What can we do to address this illness and not just cure it, but prevent its occurrence? More than 41 percent of us should be asking that question. We all should be talking about the changes we have to make — as individuals and as businesses — to stem this quiet epidemic, before it’s too late.