Twenty Years in the Cancer World

It’s been nearly 20 years since I was diagnosed with cancer. When I step back from my day-to-day work, I realize how much has changed during those two decades:

  • There’s considerably less stigma associated with cancer than there used to be. Twenty years ago, many people felt the need to keep their cancer diagnosis a secret. Today, most people speak openly about having cancer. (Stigma, unfortunately, continues to be an issue for people with lung cancer).
  • There’s been an explosion of cancer information in the news and on the Internet. Twenty years ago, it was a struggle to find resources. Today, the struggle is distinguishing the good resources from the bad resources.
  • Our ability to control the symptoms (e.g., nausea and pain) associated with cancer and its treatment is dramatically better.
  • Second opinions are now standard practice and are welcomed by nearly all physicians.
  • We increasingly understand that the underlying biology of each cancer varies from one person to the next. Cancer treatment is rapidly becoming more personalized.
  • More and more people live with cancer as a chronic disease. Cancers that aren’t curable are often controllable.
  • The cost of treating cancer has exploded. (Some increases are associated with true breakthroughs. Some are not.)
  • We increasingly recognize that the most aggressive cancer treatment is not always the best treatment.
  • More attention is being paid to survivorship. We understand that completing cancer treatment is not the end of the journey.

It’s sometimes hard to recognize these advances because they’re often more evolutionary than revolutionary. And it’s hard to celebrate because too many of us continue to struggle with cancer on a day-to-day basis. But things have gotten better. I’ve seen it.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.
Original publication date: Dec. 5, 2015

 

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