Over two years ago my family had a conversation that resulted in the sad, but necessary, decision to place my father in a Home. His Alzheimer’s had reached an advanced stage and my mother at 83, no longer felt she could cope, something which I had enormous sympathy for. Since then, we have alternated between grief at the loss of the man we knew, and small moments of pleasure as the ‘windows’ in his mind occasionally open and he manages a few words. This was a man who used his mind for a living and I still struggle with the knowledge of that.
Recently though, someone in my extended family has been diagnosed with cancer and we have been trying to keep her spirits up and give her a reason to fight this. Chemo, radiotherapy, and countless hospital visits later, she is growing tired of the process and I am questioning the benefit too. I know nothing about the processes and it certainly seems they are still the general or typical treatment protocol. It has only been a few short months since the diagnosis, but she is not getting measurably better, and worse, feels exhausted by the effort. I now wonder at the possibility they have simply found it late.
All of us rely on pain as our guidance system – it alerts us that something is wrong but what happens if there is no pain? If something, an illness, or in this case a tumour, is growing and we do not actually feel anything, how can we know to go to the doctor?
Screening is impossibly expensive for everyone and how would we do it anyway – an MRI perhaps? Yet we know the screening programs for cervical, breast and prostate cancer, have yielded results, so maybe we should look at ways to mass screen for other typical cancers?
In the future, we may find there is a blood test we can use that gives us markers in the blood for infection. It’s always been possible to look for elevated white cell count but again, to seek this you must sense something is wrong. What do we need to do to pick this up better?
Cancer is our biggest killer and worse, it is killing us from within. We are doing so much. Science is spending millions to tackle this, yet I read about obesity and Alzheimer’s and worry that the strain on the NHS is too much for an already maxed out system.
Many of us feel aware of our general health, look to do what we can to take care of ourselves, yet do we really understand this illness well enough that we are prepared to say what we know causes it so that the public can do what they can to avoid it? Ideas have been mooted, our eating habits, smoking, lack of exercise, and excess weight have been targeted. I would say these are all helpful but my relative never did any of these things. She ate well, exercised almost daily, never smoked, and is NOT overweight, nor ever has been. So, is it just bad luck, in our genes, in the air, or something in our food we don’t yet know about?
One thing is for sure, we need more information. Research is essential – can there ever be enough? Yet my feeling is researchers are afraid to tell us something until they can guarantee there is a causal link, and this is understandable, otherwise we would become afraid. Yet it can take years for the research to reach the stage where we get told something is a viable, let alone probable, link. Meanwhile, I continue to be saddened by this disease.
Lest this blog seems unreasonably negative, survival rates are getting better. We are getting somewhere, but it’s just slow. Patience is needed I guess, but let’s keep up the drive, and the desire, for change?
Let me know your experiences? I’d be very interested. Wishing you luck as always,