Fearing The Cure

Published 8 years, 2 weeks past

I’m afraid there will be a cure for cancer.

Except no, that’s not really it.  In truth, I’m afraid of what a cure for cancer will do to me, and to Kat.

After my mom died of breast cancer in 2003, I gritted my teeth at news stories of promising new cancer treatments.  I’d think to myself, If a cure is coming soon, why couldn’t it have come sooner?  As, I’m sure, the parents of polio victims asked themselves, when the vaccine came into being.

Word came recently that the FDA is fast-tracking a novel treatment for glioblastoma, based on genetically modified polio virus.  Initial trials have been so effective, they’re opening it up to as many as possible.

And I remember reading about this treatment, which had worked in a single case, two years ago, as our daughter was treated for glioblastoma.  We tried to get access to the treatment, tried to get into a study or just be given a sample to administer, and were denied.  Twice.  They wouldn’t let us try it on a little girl with multiple tumors, when it had only been successfully tried on an adult with a single tumor.  That door was closed to us.

So the experimental treatment we tried wasn’t a modified polio virus.  It was something else.  It was something promising.  It didn’t work.

I know this polio treatment, as much as we wanted it then and as promising as it looks now, may come to nothing.  So many other treatments have before.  I remember the every-other-year drumbeat of “Is This The Cure For Cancer?” headlines and magazine covers — all about novel, promising approaches that nobody remembers now, because they didn’t work as it seemed like they might.

“A cure for cancer is the next great breakthrough in medicine, and it always will be,” I sometimes joke, a little bleakly.  But then, that’s what they used to say about polio itself.  About smallpox.  About wound infections.

I read that story about the treatment we’d begged them to let us try, and how it looked like it might cure the cancer we could not, and sick grief ached anew in my chest.  I thought, What if this really works, and we failed to get it for her?  What if I could have called that doctor again, begged and pleaded, and somehow gotten him to say yes that time, and saved Rebecca’s life?  Will I ever forgive myself if the cure was there all along, and I was too weak or blind to force it into our hands?

I still don’t know the answer.

I don’t want brain cancer to remain uncured.  I don’t want any cancer to remain uncured.  I don’t want other families to suffer what we and so many other families have suffered.  There is much I would give to bring about that day, even though it comes too late for my mother, and for my daughter.  There is much I have given, in many senses, to try to bring about that day.

When that day comes, if it ever comes, even if it’s just for one type of cancer, celebrate all the lives that will be saved.  Feel that joy and relief.  But also spare a moment of compassion for all the lives that were lost, and all the lives that were broken.  Especially for the ones who died just before the cure came, the ones who mourn both their absence and the could-have-been that came so close.

Until that day comes, if it ever comes, spare a thought for those who live sick with dread and desperate hope, wishing and praying for a breakthrough to save their loved ones.

Spare another for those who live in dread of that day, and hate that they do.

Comments (7)

  1. As always, Eric, your words haunt and move me. Your transparency and humanity stays with me long after the words have been written and read, and I have nothing to offer you in return other than compassion and a responsive heaviness in my heart from my own losses to cancer. With light and love to you and yours.

  2. Yes. I promise if I live to see a cure for glioblastoma I’ll be gratefui and then think of your family with the deep wish I know I share with many, that it had been here for Rebecca.

  3. With so much money being donated into research they better start finding cures for cancer.

    For people who have lost loved ones the news will be bitter sweet.

    Mum died from cancer, they found it too late and there was no cure, there is still no cure.

    Doug and Robin summed up my feelings

  4. I’ve often had that thought about my brother. His case was maybe a little less close a call in time, and certainly without such a direct personal brush with a possible cure… which must be utterly excruciating. I can’t even imagine that part. But those what ifs… I’ve known them well.

  5. As a cancer survivor, I’ve done a lot of thinking on death and cancer.

    Cancer is evolution gone mad, and there can never be a cure for evolution; we may be able to dead-end a few isolated paths, but the process itself is unstoppable.

    Life, however prolonged, is still short, and over in the blink of an eye. On our own deathbeds, we will wonder where the time has gone.

    Cold comfort, but it helps me, somehow.

    Best wishes to you.

  6. As a father of a child with newly diagnosed Glioblastoma, I understand your pain. The cancer in my son’s brain has advanced so rapidly that we feel helpless. Like you, we called every Cancer Research department to inquiry about promising drugs only to hear that we are a year away from FDA approval for children or we are following the same failed protocols that have not worked for the last twenty years. Although there was no cure for Rebecca and probably will not be a cure for my son, I hope and pray that other parents do not have to go through the agony of hopelessness when their child needs them the most. Your article was very touching.

  7. Oh, Louis. I am so, so sorry. I wish I could take even a small measure of this hell, and the hell to come, from your shoulders. I wish I had the power to spare your son. I know you will understand when I say I can’t imagine what you’re going through, even though my journey was similar. I hope you have friends and family to support you through this most difficult passage.

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