This morning I decided to wake up slowly and lazily. I flipped on the TV and started channel surfing, enjoying having Tabby on my tummy and Mr. Meow curled up by my side and both of them as content as me to just hang out. (And it’s rare they decide to get along like that and tolerate each other so I wanted to relish the peace and harmony!)
I don’t know what made me stop on CNN. Dr. Sanjay Gupta was about to come on and something caught my eye about one of the stories he was going to cover. I don’t remember exactly what was said, but it had something to do with a new book out about the history of cancer.
It turned out to be a segment on The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee.
Dr. Gupta interviewed the author. Fascinating. Not sure why no one thought of compiling a book such as this before, but it traces the origins of cancer and this history of those involved.
At one point they showed a photo of the first child to receive chemo for leukemia. It was 1947 I believe. He was two years old. At that time a leukemia diagnosis meant you only had weeks or months to live. Due to a pioneering doctor’s idea, this little boy lived to be just shy of his fourth birthday.
They showed a clip of the mom talking about her son. While it was a great coup for medicine, it still resulted in a tragic loss for her. One she was bitter about, because they’d declared him cured. Yet, he still died.
That really hit home. That’s the thing most people don’t understand about “surviving” cancer. Remission, what I’m currently in, doesn’t mean I’m cured. It means I’m still healing. It means my cancer could reappear. Right now my body is showing signs of being healed and well, but it’s still too early to say cured. I understood why that mother was so upset.
Yet, to her and to the countless others who have lost children, spouses, siblings, and other loved ones I say this: thank you. Just as many soldiers never expected to truly fight in a war, people with cancer have been drafted into the ultimate battle.
Some, like myself, come out of it relatively unscathed. I had four months of chemo and another month of radiation, but I only had one hospital stay and no surgery. I know others who had to undergo far less treatment than myself, and others who’ve endured years of treatment.
Every day I say a prayer for those going through cancer to find the courage to battle on and the strength for when theirs fails. But I also say a prayer for all of those who have gone before me. The ones who consented to be guinea pigs and test out new treatments. The ones who lost their lives in that quest for health. The doctors and researchers who study the disease and find ways to treat and cure it. The loved ones who have to stay strong and become caretakers.
But they never had faces or names. Some did. Like some of the people I’ve met along my journey. But the ones who were the firsts to do anything, like develop chemo or take it…who were they? Until The Emperor of All Maladies I had no idea. I just knew they existed, but not who they were. Now I do.
What a marvelous book. I’m glad Siddhartha Mukherjee felt compelled to create it. Now I have faces and names to put to my prayer.