Thursday, March 3, 2016

Cancer Brings Out a Range of Emotions

By Sid Roberts, MD
Lufkin Radiation Oncologist

This article originally appeared at the Lufkin Daily News.

I hate cancer.

Hate is a bad word, I know. My mother always got on to me when I said I hated something or someone. We raise our children not to hate, because hate is one of those harmful emotions and temperaments that threaten to make us less than human. Of course, kids are prone to tantrum-throwing exaggeration when it comes to hating. Lima beans, anyone?

But I am a cancer physician and I truly hate cancer. It is insidious … evil … scary.  I respect cancer ― like I respect a wild animal ― but I still want to kill it.

I hate some things that cause cancer. Like smoking. I don’t hate the smoker, and ― though some may disagree ― I am not in your face about smoking. I also discourage other lifestyle decisions or factors that increase our risk of cancer (tanning, obesity, etc.). But I don’t hate people. We are, after all, human. And, I know all too well that I could be next to get cancer, whether it is from something I did or did not do.

As a matter of fact, I fully expect to get diagnosed with cancer. Perhaps you should, too. I’m not being morbid, just realistic. As a man, all things being equal, my chance of developing invasive cancer at some point in my lifetime is 42 percent. Women have a lifetime probability of 38 percent. Notice, I did not say I fully expect to die from cancer. Today, the odds of surviving cancer are well in my favor. The American Cancer Society reports that over the past three decades, the five-year relative survival rate for all cancers combined has increased 20 percent among whites and 23 among among blacks. Today, roughly seven out of 10 cancer patients are cured.

Contrary to popular belief, the overall incidence of cancer is declining. It may seem that more people we know are getting cancer, because as we age our risk goes up. The principal reason for lower rates of cancer is fewer people smoking. And the biggest factor of persistently elevated cancer risk, especially in deep East Texas, is also smoking. East Texans still smoke more than the rest of the state. I applaud Stephen F. Austin University for its recent decision to join other college campuses in going smoke- and vape-free. The current trend of vaping is a dangerous prelude to smoking for young people and needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.

As I said, I do not hate people who have cancer. On the contrary, I have a great deal of compassion for those diagnosed with cancer. Their fighting spirit motivates me. I applaud the new American Cancer Society’s Advantage Humans ad campaign highlighting traits that emerge with a diagnosis of cancer, such as courage, defiance, and anger. The ads are positive but edgy, acknowledging that raw emotions are real and battling cancer is tough.

Of course, preventing cancer ― where we can ― is still the best option. How? Don’t smoke; vaccinate against human papillomavirus (HPV); don’t tan; screen for colorectal and cervical cancer. Catch cancer early with mammograms and low-dose CT for lung cancer. And treat cancer appropriately per national guidelines such as those developed by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Go to www.cancer.org for tremendous resources, and stay local for treatment where you have excellent facilities and the support of family and friends.

It is OK to hate cancer. In a strange way, our humanity is enhanced by hating what is evil (while also clinging to what is good; Romans 12:9). But use that hate constructively to motivate yourself to prevent, to fight, to come together, and ultimately, to win.

Dr. Sid Roberts is a radiation oncologist at the Arthur Temple, Sr. Regional Cancer Center in Lufkin. He is a contributing writer for the Lufkin Daily News and blogs at SRob61.blogspot.com

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