Woody Bassett: Progress for living

Cancer still scary, but successes are many

Posted: April 20, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Cancer is perhaps the scariest word in the English language. When we go to a doctor for an annual checkup or while waiting for the results of diagnostic testing, often our single greatest fear is the possibility, no matter how slight, that we might suddenly hear our doctor say these words to us: "You have cancer."

We all will die; that's a certainty. But it shouldn't be a given that so many people will die young or be struck down in the prime of their lives from cancer. It's a disease that can compromise quality of life or at its worst ravage those afflicted, causing anguish and breaking the hearts of those who love them.

This dreaded disease strikes indiscriminately, sometimes without warning. Cancer eventually touches all of us in one way or another. Many are now living with some type of this disease and most of us have lost a family member or close friend to some form of cancer.

With wide approval, President Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer in 1971 by signing into law the National Cancer Act. Since then, the country has spent more than $100 billion for cancer research, resulting in steady and profound incremental advances in cancer treatment that have made a difference in millions of lives. Yet, all these years later the war on cancer is still being intensely waged. As one scientist put it: "The war on cancer will not be won in one dramatic battle, it will be a series of skirmishes."

Progress has been made in preventing cancer and we've seen great strides made in early cancer detection, which has saved countless lives. The knowledge, resources and capability to effectively treat cancer continue to expand to new horizons, leading to cures for some and prolonging life for many others.

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be nearly 1.7 million new cancer cases in the United States in 2017 with approximately 16,000 of those in Arkansas. It also estimates more than 600,000 people in our country will die from cancer in 2017, with 6,800 of those in Arkansas. But even though people still get cancer and many meet their demise from it, far more people survive, live longer and maintain a good quality of life than when the war on cancer was launched. Incidence rates in the United States for all kinds of cancers have declined as have the overall mortality rates, even as the population has grown and aged. Some cancers are now often curable and cures for other types of cancer are within reach. Less invasive surgeries, targeted radiation and new drug therapies are now available to many cancer patients.

Due to the brilliant work of talented and dedicated doctors and scientists, the generous philanthropy of many and the substantial investment in cancer research by the government, we now have a far better understanding of why cancer happens and how it behaves, which has led to an array of new treatments, biological therapies and chemicals targeted directly to the patient's cancer cells.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who lost a son to cancer, recently said, "The only bipartisan thing left in America is the fight against cancer." The public believes accelerating cancer research, embracing cancer drug development and relentlessly pursuing new ways to end cancer as a major public health issue should be among our nation's highest priorities.

Even when surrounded by love and support with access to the best medical care available, confronting cancer is a lonely and uncertain journey for the patient. It takes courage, perseverance, hope and faith to endure all the challenges one must face.

Maybe I'll be lucky enough to never have cancer. But if not, I'll look for inspiration and guidance in the words of Stuart Scott, who was a sports anchor at ESPN for over 20 years before passing away from cancer at age 49. In a nationally televised speech shortly before his death, this is what he told us: "When you die, it doesn't mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live. So live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest, and let somebody else fight for you."

Our mission is to end cancer as we know it. We must never lose hope the day will dawn when the scourge of cancer will be eradicated and it will no longer be one of the most frightening words in our vocabulary.

Commentary on 04/20/2017