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Cancer Headlines

The Marketing of Hope

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Photo by David East
Photo by David East

Each January, I see some bright news from the cancer frontier.

As expected, in January 2020, we saw that cancer deaths were down. 

In January 2019, headlines read: “US cancer death rate hits 25 years of decline, study says.”

In January 2018, we saw the New York Times report: “Cancer Deaths Continue a Steep Decline.”

In January 2017, CNN reported: “US cancer deaths down 25% since 1991, report says.”

Science Daily reported: “Cancer Statistics 2014: Death rates continue to drop.”

Each year, more headlines indicate that we have cancer under control. 

Most of my life, I have heard hopeful tales about cancer. I’ve heard them since I was a child; in 1971, Richard Nixon, also in January, during his State of the Union address, said: 

“I will also ask for an appropriation of an extra $100 million to launch an intensive campaign to find a cure for cancer, and I will ask later for whatever additional funds can effectively be used. The time has come in America when the same kind of concentrated effort that split the atom and took man to the moon should be turned toward conquering this dread disease. Let us make a total national commitment to achieve this goal.”

Even though I was just eleven years old, I had hope for many of the mothers on my block who were sick with cancer in the affluent neighborhood of Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan.

I had hoped that perhaps my worst fears would never happen, and maybe my friends and family would remain untouched by cancer. That was not to be the case. What I know is that while, as a family, we don’t have cancer in our genes, we do have it in our family, in our neighborhood, and among our friends. 

While President Nixon’s war against cancer (not his term) occurred about a half-century ago, now we have more cancer, not less.

Since that time, I have never felt hope after losing my friends, mom, siblings, and extended family. 

Recent news is confusing to me, while reports of cancer deaths are down, the Centers for Disease Control website reports; Between 2010 and 2020, it is expected that the number of new cancer cases in the United States will go up by about 24% in men to more than one million cases per year, and by about 21% in women to more than 900,000 cases per year.

I am angry and sick and tired of watching people get sick and angry that the life they knew is gone, that their bank accounts have been blown up. Cancer patients, no matter how you spin the tale, are suffering at record highs. 

As a society, we’ve done so little to prevent cancer despite knowing it is absolutely the best way to address cancer. 

At the time President Nixon was touting solutions for cancer, I was still watching the cartoon the Flintstones with characters Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble smoking Winstons.

Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke

So, while children’s television, along with Santa Claus and even physicians, were influencing baby boomers of the time to smoke cigarettes, we see what the outcomes have shown. That said, prevention programming to include education and policy is what has brought the smoking down, and it has in turned reduced cancer incidences and deaths. That has everything to do with education, policies, and advocacy.

Of course, I want all the people I’ve lost to cancer back; of course, I want a cure—I want that magic pill. 

I would love to swing year to year or decade to decade with headlines of good news about cancer. 

This is what I know, year after year, decade after decade as a 60-year-old man; I am not very optimistic.  Despite signs of hope we still have too many people getting and dying of cancer.

The American Cancer Society reported in 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 609,640 people will die from the disease.

The headlines I would like to see would be:

Less People Being Diagnosed with Cancer or Record Lows of Cancer Diagnosis ..

There are many things that we could do to reduce the risk of cancer. However, for real change to occur, we must prioritize and invest in policies, education and programming that work to mitigate increased incidences of cancer. 

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