Written by Mariem ELTagoury 

Not that one!

For the past couple of days, there’s been a trend of changing your profile picture to black and white as a cancer awareness challenge to which many responded with a “challenge accepted”. Others, particularly cancer survivors and families, met it with distaste. As the daughter of a cancer patient, I can relate to the latter. Between the black and white profile pictures to the bra colour status to on ground campaigns like write a message on the board to someone you know who died of cancer, I’m at a loss at how people can use our emotional turmoil for the word “awareness campaigns” so loosely.

I understand many of those who choose to join such activities do it out of the belief that they’re doing some kind of easy goodness. However, not everything can be purchased as quickly as Mac delivery just to appease the conscience that one has done good.

These campaigns don’t help awareness in any way; they don’t fund research to discover new medications that many cancer patients desperately need, they don’t relieve a cancer patient’s pain, they don’t spare their family the horror of watching their loved one slowly sink deeper into one unimaginable torment after the next, they don’t pay the endless bills, they don’t fix the scars in our hearts and lives, they don’t give us back the lives we’ve lost.They’re just there on our newsfeed, mocking our sorrows and turning them into something trivial like some kind of game.

Cancer Awareness Ribbons

Today, allow me to debunk your pink ribbon gardens & viral, fun social media awareness, by telling you some blunt REAL facts about CANCER, that big word you use so loosely. So, internet, you want awareness? Coming right up! Warning – read on with caution, optimism might be affected.

1. Cancer isn’t just a disease

Quote by Susan Sontag
Quote by Susan Sontag

Cancer is not a single disease. The word cancer actually refers to more than 200 types of cancer variants. One type of cancer affecting the organ of one patient can be different than that affecting the very same organ of a different patient. Furthermore, the stage and spread of the cancer weighs heavily on the type of treatment the patient can/should take.

It’s important to understand that cancer is not simply a virus or bacteria that needs researchers to discover some modern penicillin to use against it. The issue is far more complex than this. You can read this simplified guide for more understanding.

2. We’ve Made Progress in Fighting Some Cancers

handout photo from Merck of Keytruda, a cancer treatment drug.
handout photo from Merck of Keytruda, a cancer treatment drug

Today we hear of more survival cases than ever before. Child Leukaemia for example has been seeing a good survival rate of 70%. Testicular cancer and Malignant Melanoma [a variant of skin cancer] have shown survival rates above 80%, particularly in the UK. Breast Cancer has a survival rate that can range from 60 -100% according to the stage of diagnosis.

3. BUT, we’ve Made Very Little Progress in 40+ Years

Pancreatic Cancer Action awareness

Since Nixon announced the “war on cancer” in 1971, about $200 billion has been spent on cancer research since the early 1970s, and the five-year survival rate for all people diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. has risen from about 50% in the 1970s to 65% today. That’s an overall 15% in a range of 40 years. According, to Cancer Research UK, death rates have fallen by 10% over the past decade alone. That’s an equivalent of 1% per year, and that’s in the UK alone. Developing countries usually have higher death rates.

The Human Genome Project, which held many promises for cancer research, has amounted to very few results, in spite of the $3 Billion funding it was presented 15 years ago. 

Some of the deadliest Cancers include Liver and Lung Cancers which are both considered as one of the most frequent cancers in Egypt yet. 

4. Cancer Treatment Kills as Much as It Cures

They don’t always tell the whole truth!

Whether it be chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery, none of these are an easy way out for a cancer patient. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are designed to kill tumour cells, which result in killing human cells as well [since tumour cells were once normal cells in its previous life], while most surgeries leave the patient maimed or disabled in certain aspects for the rest of their lifetime. This is mostly why advanced cases are usually advised to focus on targeting the pain and reducing the symptoms rather than seeking treatment.

5. Even Medical Help Is Human

Different hospitals or establishments have different policies when it comes to cancer patients. Some, we’ll call Team A, are pro-life. That is, if they have an empty bed and two cancer patients come their way, they will accept the one with more likelihood of survival. It is a policy that, while quite harsh, is sufficient in guaranteeing more survivors.

This doesn’t mean the administration is rejecting people out of pure spite; on the contrary, these establishments do usually have limited places for patients. A grand and well respected example of Team A is the 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital, which has shown very high survival rates due to administration of this policy. They actually do need more space hence; they’re building extensions and new branches in Egypt.

Team B, on the other hand, follow a more old-fashion policy; which is not selective according to survival rate. So even if a patient is at an ending stage, they shall be provided with health service; a more merciful, perhaps less painful end. An example of Team B is the National Cancer Centre, which is why they continuously emphasize their policy of accepting everyone.

Obviously, neither is the ideal solution; but we’re only, for lack of better words, human. 

Till next time~

Keep a look out for the second part! Also, feel free to share with us your story with cancer or that of someone you love in the comments below.