By J. Randolph Evans – Every year about this time, folks – young and old – think about all the things that they wish for. Politicians wish for more power. Presidents wish for better approval ratings. Companies wish for more customers. And people wish for more jobs. Amidst it all, there is often a brutal reminder that puts everything back into perspective. While most people wish for many things, people with cancer only wish for one thing.
On December 8, 2010, Elizabeth Edwards died of breast cancer. There are many things that people will say when reflecting on the wife of the former Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. This column is not about any of those things. It is about one of the most frightening words in the human vocabulary – cancer.
In the world of politics, it is often easy to forget that the candidates and their families are just human. There is a perception that they do not share the same kinds of fears and emotions that other people do. When it comes to something like cancer, they are wrong.
After lung cancer, breast cancer is the most fatal form of cancer among women. According to studies, the incidence of breast cancer has increased dramatically over the last three decades.
One of the things that makes it especially difficult is that it can occur without any obvious symptoms. In the case of Elizabeth Edwards, she had been especially careful given her earlier diagnosis of breast cancer in 2004. Yet, it was only after an X-Ray for a cracked rib that the recurrence of her cancer was discovered. The diagnosis was metastatic Stage 4 cancer. Her doctor reported that the cancer was treatable but not curable. In the end, Elizabeth Edwards’ doctors were unfortunately right.
There is no easy way to talk about cancer or to think about cancer or to die from cancer. It is a cruel and heartless disease that randomly strikes people long before their time has come. It hits mothers, fathers, children, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. Every person who dies of cancer is one person too many.
With every passing day, the prognosis for eliminating cancer as a cause of death improves. Some have even said that with the appropriate resources for research, education, and early prevention, this goal could be less than a decade away. It cannot come soon enough.
The American Cancer Society estimates that over one-half million people in the United States will die from some form of cancer this year. In Georgia, the number of estimated cancer deaths is almost fifteen thousand people. Many, many more will have their lives forever changed by the diagnosis, treatment, and impact of cancer this year. Anyone who has had cancer, or had a relative or friend diagnosed with cancer, knows the lasting impact that it has on the rest of their lives.
The real life part of the story is that approximately 200,000 women reach down deep into their very soul each year when they get the first news of a diagnosis of breast cancer. Even with the better information and communication now available, it is one of the toughest challenges that they will ever face.
While the news of celebrity deaths like Elizabeth Edwards (or my good friend Tony Snow) serves as a harsh reminder of the reality of cancer to the general public, individual Americans and their friends and family are battling with the disease every day and truly know its impact.
Breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and ovarian cancer are as harsh as anything anyone could experience, and they remain significant causes of death. Over forty thousand women are projected to die in 2010 from breast cancer. Another forty thousand Americans will die from ovarian cancer or prostate cancer.
These numbers, and the human suffering that accompany them, are quite simply unacceptable.
Americans should accept NO excuses from their public officials for not committing the resources, policies, and directions necessary to win the battle against cancer. It is not just about money.
Certainly, the resources for research and development are critical. But, it is also about detection and prevention through things like mammograms, colonoscopies and other cancer screenings. It is about standing firm on policies directed at reducing cigarette smoking and eliminating environmental causes of cancer. It really is about beating cancer as a cause of death.
If America could achieve a goal of putting a man on the moon in ten years, it can achieve a goal of eliminating cancer as a cause of death within a decade. It can be done.
Now is the time to step up the pace to grant a wish – indeed the only wish – of so many. May God comfort the family of Elizabeth Edwards.