Thursday, January 18, 2007
My childhood memories of cancer
Every time I hear the word "cancer," I think of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. The weekend before I started the fourth grade, my sister and I were conducting a used-toy sale in our driveway to benefit "Jerry's kids." We were broiling in the late summer sun, so we went inside to get something to drink. The telethon was on TV. My mom was on the phone, her back to us. The only words I remember hearing were "leukemia" and "Joe." I knew she was talking about her baby brother, my beloved Uncle Joe. And although I had never heard the word "leukemia" before, I knew something was terribly wrong.

My mom sat us down and told us my uncle had cancer and that he was heading to Maryland for treatment. I asked if he was going to die. My mom started to cry.

By Columbus Day, cancer had killed my Uncle Joe. He was only 22.

I don't remember much from the funeral except that my parents wanted us to know that good could come from my uncle's death. My uncle's illness, they said, would help doctors learn more about how to beat cancer in the future.

Wednesday morning, I was happy to read that U.S. cancer rates have dropped for the second year in a row. (Full Story) Science is making amazing breakthroughs. But I think it has something to do with the fact that many people are taking a stand and refuse to think of cancer as an automatic death sentence.

As part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta's special about cancer (Saving Your Life) I recently visited southwest Georgia, which has one of the highest mortality rates for cancer in the nation. There, I met up with Grace Miller and Jane Stoutenborough. They are "foot soldiers" in the war against cancer. Many afternoons they drive the back roads of rural Georgia visiting people in their homes and offering free cancer screenings. Their efforts are paying off. Recently, one of the women they visited learned she was in the early stages of cervical cancer. She got treatment and is doing great. It's just one more example of the little victories we are winning on the war against cancer.

I still can't watch the Jerry Lewis Telethon without crying. I still get sad when I think about losing my Uncle Joe so young. He would have been a great dad. But more than 20 years later, I still believe my parent's words are true. No cancer death is in vain. Each one helps doctors come one step closer to saving someone else's Uncle Joe. Do you have an "uncle Joe" whose battle with cancer inspired you?
My 67-year-old dad is currently fighting leukemia, diagnosed just last week. Coincidentally, his name is also Joe. Because your Uncle Joe passed away, perhaps my Daddy Joe will live. We deal with it day by day, with a lot of love and a good dose of humor. My dad has begun referring to Idarubicin (one of the chemotherapy medications)as "Ida Rubenstein," and we had a lively debate as to who this "Ida" was (we finally decided it was Eddie Cantor's mother-in-law)!

My dad's father died of lung cancer in 1954 when Dad was only 14, in the days where all you could do was make them comfortable until the end. Thanks to 21st century science, a positive attitude, and people like your Uncle Joe, we no longer have to surrender to this disease without a fight.
You never know what life lessons our children will learn or at what age. We are all the products of our life experiences and this story, we pray, will help others who have lost a child so young to find hope that a contribution has been made to eradicate this terrible disease.
My sister was diagnosed with leukemia in the early 70s. At that time, 80% of childhood leukemia patients did not live past the first year. What strides have been made since then. I remember how brave and committed she was even at the tender age of 6. She only missed a few days of school due to her illness during her five year plus treatment period. She passed away at age 36 from a car accident. We sure miss her!
Thanks for having the courasge to share such a poignant and personal recollection. My hope is that it will prompt others to pay attention to the dangers cancer poses. Great job raising awareness!
When I was 22 years old, my father died of lung cancer at age 50. Four years later, my mother was diagnosed with cancer of the bile ducts. She had three fourths of her liver removed and she went into remission for 3 years. She died in April 1999 right before I turned 31. My brother's fiance was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer this past Tuesday and is making arrangements to start treatment. My brother and I are comforted by the fact that his fiance has more options for treatment than our parents did.

When I worked in the Houston medical center, I had a spectacular view of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center from my office window. The few times I had to visit this hospital, it was all I could do not to burst into tears when the "cancer smell" hit my nose. The sight patients in various stages of sickness and treatment goes without saying. I was paranoid that one day I was destined to get cancer as well, and fate gave me job across the street from M.D. Anderson for the sake of convenience!

My parents' death has not inspired me in anyway. I still struggle with the fear and grief it has instilled within me. I am shocked that my brother's fiance has breast cancer. If I have learned anything, it is the quality of life is far more important than its duration.
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the current news about Dichloroacetate as a Cancer treatment. Are we likely to see this drug being prescribed as a "Back Door" treatment, or one of last resort, any time soon, if the drug companies show no signs of interest in development? Or should we, perhaps, be relying on alternate ways of funding basic health research?
The Uncle Joe story hit home. Here is why...... I was diagnosed with a form of leukemia at 42. It is called CML. I take a new targeted therapy (4 pills a day ) and 1 1/2 years later it can bearly even be detected......I am very healty and no side effects. Even better, I was able to ride in the Lance Armstrong Challenge in Austin in October 2006 to raise money for his foundation. I went 80 miles on a bike in the hill country of Austin and a little over one of them next to Lance himself at 26 mph ! Why would we stand for cutting cut funding on research when we are on the dawn of such success ? Like Lance, I am not a patient man either.
My grandma died of breast cancer at the age of 54. Fear caused me to have a suspicious sign checked out. A few days short of my 43rd birthday I was diagnosed with the same disease. The doctors told me due to the nature of the tumor, a mammogram would not have caught it for 2-3 years. Grandma Susie, you saved my life!
Where was the money from this program that was supposed to help my family? They rarely, if ever, got to see it...
Hey Sanjay,
Have you read the article that's a couple years old now, published by Guzman et al in Nature? It shows how cannabinoids can effectively combat cancer (lung, breast, and leukemia) and that in some lab animals, brain cancers (induced by injecting cancer cells into the animals' brains) were actually ERADICATED. Why do you think Americans don't hear about cannabis as a possible treatment (or cure??) for cancer? I wish I could've been at your forum with Lance Armstrong - I'm a big fan of you both.

In the 1967 My younger sister fell sick when she was 7 years old, I was 8 at the time. I remember seeing her just lying in bed staring and could not move or talk. her teeth had turned black and large bruises appeared all over her. My stepfather assuming that the bruises were the result of me whipping my sister with a section of hose or something beat me black and blue for it. Even at my age I could tell the difference between large round bruises and what a whip would create but he did not) This went on for a couple of weeks until my grandmother came over and insisted that my Mother and Stepfather take her to a Doctor. The last I saw of her she was rolled up in a blanket over my Stepfather's shoulder as they took her away. About a week later they told me that she had died from something called Leukemia. In the mid 90's my Mother went thru the same thing and passed away a couple of years later, I have been told that a distant cousin also was taken by leukemia. I also watched my maternal grandfather as he was dying from lung cancer as well as a Stepmother. I have always put my spare quarters in those cardboard "cure leukemia" donation things in the grocery stores but I have not seen one in many years. What ever became of those. Many other family and friends have succumbed to cancer of one kind or another since then.
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