Today, in an email to all staff at work, we were told that a colleague had passed away, having earlier being diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t know him well, but had exchanged emails before. He had worked with us for over a decade, and was involved in many aspects of academic provision at the university.
Cancer has taken the lives of many people this year. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Victoria Wood and most recently AA Gill are just some of the celebrities who have died, but there will be millions of less well-known people. We are getting better at diagnosing and treating cancer – in the UK, 78% of women with breast cancer now live for survive for 10 or more years, and I count my own mother as one of those survivors. But only 35% of ovarian cancer patients achieve the same metric and 79% of cases are not preventable.
And it’s because cancer isn’t just one disease. Cancer Research UK list 41 different types of cancer. Not only does each type require different treatments, but different patients will respond differently. And the prognosis will depend on how developed the cancer is – a small testicular tumour can be removed relatively easily, but a large ovarian tumour that has also spread to other organs will be much tougher to fight. If it’s even possible to do so. We still have far too many people whose initial cancer diagnoses are terminal, because by the time it’s been diagnosed, it’s already too late.
Those that do survive may spend the rest of their lives on drugs which have undesireable side effects, to keep the cancer away. And current treatments, like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, are horrific.
I work at a university, and researching cancer treatments is one of the things we do. My colleagues in the Institute of Cancer Therapeutics are working hard on new medications and treatments that could help more people in future. To fund some of this work, we had to raise money ourselves, to the tune of £1million. Some of these treatments show promise and will be moving to human trials soon, which is great.
It’s with this in mind that I got really, really angry when a ‘friend’ on Facebook shared an image meme that claims that cancer can be cured, but a conspiracy led by the pharmaceutical industry prevents the treatments from being sold. After all, people dependent on drugs for the rest of their lives would generate more income. Why release a drug that would cure cancer when there’s more money to be made?
There is no conspiracy. No ‘miracle cure’ exists. To suggest otherwise belittles the work of thousands of scientists, technicians and health professionals across the world, who are all trying to make the lives of cancer sufferers better. These include my work colleagues and friends. And I trust them far more than an image posted on social media with no referenced sources. I guess it was bad co-incidental timing, but I did not need to see such a thing mere hours after learning that cancer had claimed the life of a colleague.
If you’re reading this, please take a few minutes to read the articles I’ve linked in this piece, and consider making a donation to Cancer Research UK, or your local cancer charity. Maybe one day there will be a miracle cure for cancer, but right now we have a long way to go. And, sadly, there will be many of us who won’t live to see it.