Good News In Cancer

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

A woman recently stopped me to say that some of my columns were depressing and I should try hard to be more upbeat.

I replied that a column written about cancer has to include some sadness and pain if it’s going to be honest.

But I decided to challenge myself and write only positive thoughts in this week’s column. Here goes:

Health professionals who work regularly with cancer patients are some of the best and most caring people you’ll ever meet.

In general, people are now comfortable talking openly about having cancer. I can’t imagine going through cancer and keeping it a secret (which used to be quite common).

The horrific nausea that was once associated with chemotherapy is now quite rare.

Cancer support groups provide an amazing opportunity to connect with people from all walks of life. Individuals find community in these groups.

Some cancers (e.g., testicular) are now curable even at an advanced stage.

Surgical techniques are far more refined with more attention to cosmetic results. Some cancer surgeries that were once disfiguring (e.g., neck dissections) are now hardly noticeable.

Radiation therapy is dramatically more sophisticated and precise than it used to be.

Many of the newest drugs target the underlying biology of the tumor, meaning that treatments are both more effective and less toxic.

Lung cancer rates are declining because people are smoking less.

People are often able to live with advanced cancer for many years with a surprisingly good quality of life.

Our ability to image inside the body with CT scans, MRIs and PET scans have reduced the number of surgeries that were once needed to “take a look around.”

I know so many wonderful people that, in one way or another, I’ve met because of cancer.

I’m sure that I could also write a column highlighting only the problems and challenges associated with cancer. On reflection, writing about cancer is writing about life. There is pain and there is progress. For many of us, cancer makes us appreciate what we once took for granted.

Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal. 

Click here for all of Bob’s columns


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