I am a two-time cancer survivor, chronic lymphocytic leukemia and myelofibrosis. I think about cancer almost every day as I wonder what the future may hold and how I am feeling that day. I think about my friends with cancer too. Of course I am thrilled the publicity around World Cancer Day can heighten awareness for all. Maybe it will help some people avoid cancer by promoting healthy lifestyles, or encourage them to get early diagnosis that could save their life, or allow them to get access to state-of-the-art, often breakthrough treatments, or get the emotional support they or family members need. It’s all good.
Unfortunately, we are way behind in this effort. Not enough money is available for cancer research, too many people are unaware of how to lower their cancer risk, people who are diagnosed are often feeling alone and don’t have access to care that could be easier to tolerate and more effective. We have a long way to go.
Even today when some cancers are increasing in western nations along with aging populations we don’t talk about it enough in a positive way. Too often people equate a cancer diagnosis with death, when that is changing and can change faster if we support research and clinical trials.
Regarding prevention: we need to get serious about helping young people NOT SMOKE! – after all, lung cancer is our biggest cancer killer. In Barcelona where I live most of the time, I am shocked at how many teenagers smoke. Frankly, we should create an environment where it is “not cool” to smoke. Beyond that, governments do not do much to empower patients to “get smart” about cancer and how to play a greater role in their care.
Patient Power is trying to change that by helping you become a “powerful patient”. But we need a louder voice. Government doesn’t fund that. So we have often looked to the pharmaceutical industry that spends billions developing new medicines, increasingly breakthrough pills that can extend life. I am sorry to tell you at this point they do not do enough to support novel approaches to broadly educating and empowering cancer patients. There are “campaigns” and websites by country, but compared to what they spend on so many other aspects of their businesses, their commitment to helping patients be aware and educated is not consistent nor enough, in my view. And, of course, it varies by company just as it does by government.
The bottom line is: I celebrate World Cancer Day and hope it turns a lightbulb on in many quarters and either prevents cancer, saves or extends lives, or just helps patients feel a bit more supported. But when someone has cancer EVERYDAY is world cancer day. It is 24/7 and we need to have an ongoing commitment to fight the beast that cancer is, prevent it as much as we can, and beat it on the head whenever and wherever it shows up!