The numbers become human: Cancer and the fight for survival

It is estimated that a total of 638,910 new cancer cases and 577,190 deaths from cancer are projected to occur in the United States by the end of 2012. These are mind boggling figures that amaze us and we sympathize with; but once you have walked into an oncology center, as many of you have, and seen the number of people fighting cancer or with a loved one who is fighting, these numbers take on a whole new meaning. I recently have had to spend a lot of time in such a facility and all of a sudden these numbers that I have read about over the years have faces. Some are covered with masks to prevent infection, some have oxygen over their nose, some in wheel chairs, walking with walkers and canes and many wearing scarves, turbans or hats of some sort to cover their hair loss. A few are in tears, maybe having just been given the news of their disease or from the pain, but just as many are still able to smile and greet you with a ‘hello, how are you?’ Where do they get the strength to smile and inquire as to how I am when I know what they are going through? If you talk to them, they will tell you that it is their faith in God in most cases.

This particular facility is a three story building and it is bustling with people on every floor. This is just one center out of hundreds across the United States, each one just as busy. This oncology center has 20 doctors and with nurses and the technicians to operate the equipment for diagnosing and treating the patients I was told that 600 people are seen during a single day. When I questioned the head nurse about this number that seemed so high, she corrected me and said the number was closer to 800 people. It was shocking to realize how many people suffer with this terrible disease. Cancer has no age connected with it. It can affect a person in their 80s as well as small children. To think we are safe from it once we reach our senior years is not true. It can strike at any time.

There has been a decline in deaths from cancer over the past five years. For men, death is down by 1.8 percent and 1.6 percent for women. The most rapid decline in death rates have been with Blacks and Hispanics. There are so many different kinds of cancer. The two most common are breast cancer and lung cancer. These cancers are a major public health problem in the United States and many other parts of the world. The four major cancer sites, lung, colorectal, breast and prostate are declining each year. The exact number of cases diagnosed each year is unknown because cancer registration is incomplete in some states. The overall estimate of more than 1.6 million new cases does not include carcinoma, basal cell and squamous cell cancers of the skin. More than 63,300 cases of carcinoma and melanoma are expected to be newly diagnosed this year. Those of you who frequent the tanning beds, you have to know that it is not good for you. Golfers, gardeners, fishermen and boaters may want to take note that being in the sun so much requires a good sun screen. Of course if you are a smoker, you have to have seen or read of the danger of lung cancer.

Some cancers require radiation, some require chemo and some require both at the same time. In 1898 the discovery of radium began as a source of a possible cure, by exposing the tumor directly to the radiation by placing the radium in a body cavity with a needle implant. This is known as brachytherapy. Over the years this procedure has been improved and the radiation is now centered on the tumor cells while sparing many of the normal tissues. The body’s cells, including cancer cells, are continually in a state of repair and reproduction. The cancer cells are always dividing while normal cells do not. With radiation, cell division is interrupted and cell death occurs.

This oncology center has close to 100 chairs for treatment. For those who receive the chemo in the form of a shot, it takes a half hour for the solution to be made up for you after you arrive but after the shot you are free to go. For those patients undergoing the drip chemo, it can take two or three hours. Some sleep, talk on their phones, watch videos, read books and Kindles and one man even had his laptop set up and continued to work. There are so many people undergoing treatment, it is a sight you would not soon forget.

I cannot stress enough the importance of seeing about any unusual nodule that might appear on your body. It may be nothing or it could be a tumor, many of them fast growing, or a dark spot that does not go away for a long period of time. Ladies, get those mammograms and gentlemen have that prostate checked. Your medical doctor will know what procedure is recommended and who you should see. Putting it off could make the condition worse.

Researchers all over the world are looking for new and better ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat cancer. They are learning more about what causes cancer and are conducting many types of clinical trials. So many are fighting this fight that it is a blessing for support groups such as the one Bonnie Myers and her friend started many years ago in Winnsboro for the people of Fairfield County and surrounding areas. If you have already been diagnosed with cancer, it is important that you join such a group of survivors that share your experience.

Remember this quote by an unknown “at any given time you have the power to say this is NOT how the story is going to end.” Live to win.