Many of us diagnosed with appendix cancer find hope to be very illusive, at least at first. There’s not a lot of disease information available, and many of the published survival statistics aren’t great.

Cancer for years was a word associated always with death. Now, though, there are many survivors, 10.1 million in the USA this year.

I smile as many times I am asked what chemotherapy I received. Interesting thing is that the best chemotherapy I received had been approved by the FDA only months prior to my being diagnosed….it was kind of my great white hope. Now it’s old news and a second line chemotherapy for our disease, it was replaced by something better in 2004 (Oxaliplatin). Also available now that hadn’t been approved when I was diagnosed are the anti-angiogenisis drugs like Avastin.

I just read a list of new drug therapies approved for use in the treatment of cancer in the past 10 years and quit counting when I hit 100. And those are just chemotherapy drugs. Research is ongoing into immunotherapy and to fighting cancer on so many other different fronts.

I have been a nurse since 1982, and have seen so much change in medicine.

In the early 80s when we dealt with AIDs patients and not much was known about the disease except that it was universally and rapidly fatal, we dressed in isolation “moon suits” as we called them when entering an AIDs patient’s room. Now AIDs is treated as a chronic disease and we use only routine precautions with body fluids. I’d hug an AIDs patient now without thinking twice. AIDs is no longer a death sentence with current treatment.

I spend a lot of time working with the elderly population, and an elderly woman told me that when she was a child people wouldn’t walk on your side of the street if your child had scarlet fever. Both of my children have had scarlett fever. They returned to school after 24 hours on antibiotics, just another strep infection. But cemeteries are filled with the gravestones of children who died of infectious diseases before childhood vaccinations and antibiotics were used. Amazingly, the antibiotics we so take for granted weren’t available before 1940. Polio vaccines only became available in 1952.

Read this article, from Reader’s Digest in 2005, we are making great strides in cancer treatment: Winning the War on Cancer
Medicine changes all of the time. I communicated with a woman who was diagnosed with cancer, had a recurrence and went through the whole thing again, she is now a 13 year survivor. Even a recurrence may not be a death sentence. I know of several who have not been cured of cancer but who have dealt with cancer as a chronic disease for many years while they’ve lived full lives, in some cases for decades.

My very favorite author was a biologist and physician, Lewis Thomas. At one point in his life he was the president of Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. As a child in the early 1920s he followed his physician father as he made his rounds. Even in the 1920s and 30s he said the most his father could do was diagnose, prognose and prescibe medications that were mostly alcohol or narcotic based… he could only tell you what illness you had, how long you’d be sick (or if you’d likely die) and make you more comfortable as you hoped to recover on your own with the help of chicken soup. He really couldn’t offer treatment or cure for medical illnesses.

Look at us now, less than 100 years later. As states the title of Lewis Thomas’ book, western medicine is “The Youngest Science”. We’ve come a long way in a short time.

I think one day we’ll see a cure for cancer. Maybe soon.