Amateur oncologists should keep their speculation to themselves
Dr. Mark Lewis, a Utah-based oncologist, laments: "Please stop telling my patients they wouldn't have gotten cancer if they'd eaten more vegetables."
■ While most amateur oncologists don't actually mean ill, they reveal a hopeless ignorance of the fact that a normal cancer patient has already been through a psychological ultramarathon of existential angst, self-doubt, and second-guessing about how it happened to them -- long before sharing the news outside of their closest friends and family.
■ That traumatizing psychological aspect of the cancer experience is surely as significant to many people as the physical one: Very few things can compare with cancer for giving a person a one-way ticket straight to deep and sobering questions about the meaning of life and death.
■ Even if the cancer itself comes with favorable statistics -- low mortality, highly successful treatment standards, low rates of recurrence -- that doesn't mean anyone should call it a "good" cancer to get (yes, that happens). Cancer happens to individuals, not to statistics. Real support means caring for the one. And that one may look at a cancer with a 95% five-year survival rate and still be plagued by fears that they'll be the 1 in 20 who will die.
■ Here's a rare bright spot from the Covid-19 pandemic: It may be possible to take the same mRNA technology that delivered incredibly effective vaccines in astonishing time and use it to personalize vaccines to stop tumors from spreading in the blood. This immuno-oncology could be life-saving, and anything that gives people with cancer a better shot at survival ought to be a target for whatever support we can reasonably give it.
■ That support matters because, in the end, people end up with cancer from all kinds of sources -- lifestyle behaviors, environmental exposure, and genetics each can be causes on their own or in combination. If it were as simple as "you should have eaten more vegetables", oncogenesis wouldn't be much of a field.
■ As Dr. Lewis has previously noted, "Virtue doesn't necessarily guarantee health". (A message that surely resonates at St. Jude.) Taking that seriously means putting aside our amateur speculations, caring for the individuals who have cancer, and putting our support behind efforts to prevent, treat, and cure all cancers -- no matter where they came from.