2015: Reflecting Upon Cancer Wins and Losses
As the year ends, we ask ourselves, how has it been, and are we hopeful going into the next? My feeling as I reflect is that 2015, when it comes to cancer, was a year of significant progress. But that is always tempered with the losses.
A couple of weeks ago, we lost one of my “cancer buddies,” Joanie Mass, a former physical education teacher who had been living with breast cancer for more than 10 years. At an annual Jewish family camp year after year, along with our friend Seth, the three of us would stand before the crowd as they recited a Jewish prayer for our healing. Seth was treated for lymphoma and continues to do well. And my chronic lymphocytic leukemia stays in check and my second cancer, myelofibrosis, seems non-aggressive thanks to a good medicine. But, alas, Joanie’s breast cancer spread. New lines of therapy and clinical trials knocked it back time and again. But, in the end, cancer was the winner.
Yet, while living with cancer Joanie had many good days. She got married. She watched her daughter, Alana, turn into a beautiful young woman and go to college. She even took her bucket list trip to our apartment in Barcelona and then visited friends in North Carolina from her home in Seattle. She lived and lived pretty well. For that we are grateful.
Another story: Pat Killingsworth has had multiple myeloma for years. He writes books and blogs that many follow. Recently, it looked like his life would soon end. A last-ditch effort was a transplant. A couple of weeks ago, about the time of Joanie’s passing, came the news that Pat’s transplant worked! He is recovering with a new lease on life. This time we won—not cancer.
At the recent American Society of Hematology meeting (ASH), doctors and patients were incredibly upbeat. Science is moving forward on several fronts: success stories of new medicines like ibrutinib (Imbruvica) for CLL, new effective medicines approved (3 in two weeks for myeloma!), new more powerful combinations in promising clinical trials, and excitement about harnessing the immune system in several ways to identify and kill the cancer cells and have the result be lasting
Oncologists had a sad job for so many years. So many of their patients died all too soon. And, we need to remember, with some cancers, that remains true. But in more and more areas of oncology, the doctor and the patients have long-term relationships and visits may increasingly become “checkups” and not treatment. That is a big win.
The scientists are poised to do so much more to try to turn the “C” from meaning Cancer into meaning Cure. I was heartened to hear the U.S. Government has allocated more money for cancer research and have heard great stories of private individuals stepping up, as well. Our friend Jenny Ahlstrom, a mother of six from Utah who has myeloma, is funding immunotherapy research through her groundbreaking myelomacrowd.org site.
And my new myelofibrosis doctor, Catriona Jamison at UC San Diego, told me a wealthy patient of hers has donated a substantial summ so many of us can be genetically studied with the hope of identifying keys to a cure or event prevention. I volunteered to be tested to help right away.
So do we shed a tear for friends we lost in 2015? Of course. Did many live longer and better than ever before? Yes. Can 2016 accelerate progress? I am sure of it! That gives me hope and I wish that for you and yours.
In 2016, you can be assured The Patient Power Team, increasingly working in multiple languages, will bring you the news of progress, so you and your doctor can make informed decisions to lead a longer, fuller life. For a growing number of conditions it is possible.
Thank you for following Patient Power and for becoming a powerful patient yourself. We value your trust in us.
Happy New Year and may 2016 bring you only good health!
Andrew is the author of the new book The Web-Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis. He is a respected medical journalist and 15-year leukemia survivor. He founded healthtalk.com and patientpower.info and has hosted almost 3,000 online talk shows for patients with chronic conditions and cancers. Many of America's leading medical centers support ...