Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Truth About Cancer (PBS) - My Thoughts

I watched this 2 hour documentary on PBS last night. For those who didn’t see it, here’s a brief recap. It followed four patients through their cancer ordeal. They had leukemia, lung, pancreatic, and I think the fourth had breast cancer. It provided an honest chronology about their disease progression, their relationships with their families, friends, and care givers, and for 3 out of 4, their demise. Two of the three died. I wasn’t quit sure about the third. But if he was still alive, the leukemia had returned and it didn’t look good for him. It also talked about advances over the past 50 years. The last half hour was a panel discussion with 4 doctors who had had cancer and was led by a moderator who had had cancer. The special was sobering, real, and well done. Unfortunately, to make it so, it couldn’t have a happy Hollywood ending. As such, it may not be a hit. It was much more insightful than the 60 Minutes Cancer segment which aired last Sunday night. In 60 Minutes defense however, the purpose of the stories were quite different.

If you did see the show, I’d be interested in your thoughts on the show by you posting your comment on my blog. I changed the blog setting today to allow for anonymous comments. I think this means you no longer need a Google ID (and no longer have to log in) to post a comment. When posting a comment, click on the "Anonymous" radio button below the comment box. We'll see if this works.

I’ll highlight the top five ideas, concepts, and impressions I took away from last night’s PBS special.

1. Cancer does not discriminate and it doesn’t fight fair. It can strike anyone at anytime. Cancer is a catch all phase for the general condition of cell mutation gone wrong with no natural way of stopping the rogue cell division. It is really many different diseases and they have to be fought in different ways.

2. I was emotionally upset by each of the patient’s stories. But, the one with pancreatic cancer resonated with me the most. She had a strong support network (friends, family, care givers), she tried to do everything she could to beat the disease, she was realistic, and she tried living each day to the fullest (even near the very end). It was this last point that really got to me and one I would like to try to emulate. A day without pain is a good day and one should embrace it. Also, it doesn’t matter how strong one is or how much they are willing to fight and endure, sometimes the cancer wins.

3. I was very moved by the doctor’s story on his 50 years in treating children with leukemia. He said that 50 years ago, they had no idea what they were doing with the drugs and the child was lucky to die quickly. There were almost no survivors. 50 years later, there is an 85% survival rate 5 years out. He said to his class, and I’m paraphrasing… 50 years ago, they used to celebrate when just one kid made it. Now, doctors cry when one kid doesn’t make it. That’s real progress. He did say that within that 85% survival not all survivors where without serious side effects. Once again, sobering.

4. Cancer research is slow tedious work. One doctor talked about extending median life expectancy in months as significant. He said when you add a few of these together, you can get a year. Although 9 out of 10 drugs in phase I trials never make it to market, every drug on the market was in a phase I trial at some point. I guess I had thought about that before, but this helped bring some clarity to that line of thought.

5. The doctor panel was okay at the end, but it didn’t blow me away. I noticed that none of the panel had the less treatable cancers such as pancreatic or lung cancer. I suspect they couldn’t find any of them, they were probably dead. They did make a few good points. Cancer support should not end with the fatal diagnosis. It’s important to properly transition the patient to the right support team at that time such as hospice.

I applaud PBS for this outstanding piece of journalism.

On a separate subject, I read comments from a few different cancer blogs. It’s surprising to me the people out there believing in the conspiracy of the drug companies to kill any promising cancer treatment advances which don’t directly benefit them. Having been in this for 3 years now, I find their comments without merit and naive. There are too many dedicated, committed, compassionate doctors and researchers out there to allow this to happen.

If you’d like a DVD copy of the PBS show, you can order one and support PBS by going to the following URL…

Take care everyone.


Anonymous said...

I found the program very interesting and certainly more truthful as the the process and survival rate was concerned. Also thought that the Doctors on panel really had the easy to treat cancers but as you mentioned there were propably no survivers of the rest of them. But all in all a worthwhile show. Kathy Peacock
San Diego, Ca cancer survior

Anonymous said...

I echo all of Ed's comments. It was a very compelling documentary. While the focus seemed to be on chemotherapy, it would have been interesting and insightful to also focus on the other alternatives such as radiation and surgery.

It also brought up the thought that while it takes tremendous strength to fight cancer, strength is not the determining factor of whether the fight against cancer is won. There are many other factors that seem to play a significant role, including luck, good doctors, and when the cancer is discovered, among other things.