Is Cancer Ever Gone
The title of today's entry is somewhat misleading, but I hoped it would grab your attention. If you have been a resident of Cancer World for any length of time, you already know the answer: No one ever knows. It is because of the impossibility of certainty that our doctors don't ever say: You are cured.
Instead they say things like: You're doing great. or No sign of any cancer on the scan. or Everything seems just fine. There is no scan that can pick up every cancer cell in the body, no blood test that can find every marker, no test of any can that is 100% definitive.
This comes to mind because of the recent news of Jimmy Carter's cancer being gone. You and I know that no one can be sure of that, but that is the way that it has been going down in the press. Except for the thoughtful folks at NPR:
Why Cancer Is 'Gone' Discourse Doesn't Help Cancer Patients
BARBARA J. KING
Many media began to report on Sunday that former president Jimmy Carter had
informed his church in Plains, Georgia, that his cancer is now gone.
Immediately, I felt joy and dismay in equal parts.
The joy is easy to explain. Carter is undergoing radiation and immune-based drug
treatment for metastatic melanoma at Emory University's Winship Cancer Institute.
He announced back in August that in addition to a tumor in his liver, malignancies
had been detected in his brain.
The news that Carter's most recent MRI scan shows that he has no detectable cancer is
splendid. As the Washington Post reports, pembrolizumab or Keytruda, the expensive
drug Carter is receiving, does in some melanoma patients lead to sustained positive
Why, then, the dismay? It's that celebratory responses built around Carter's cancer
being "gone" are in real danger of swamping an accurate understanding of cancer
biology and of what many patients experience as they cope with cancer or cancer
Carter, himself, does not use the word "gone" in the short video filmed in his church
that accompanies the Post article.