My last post was about 9/11 and the terrorist attacks on our country. I visited Manhattan again for yet another appointment a few months after 9/11. The depression in the city was palpable. I visited the place where the Twin Towers had been only months before. I saw the quilts, the pictures and the memorials.
I talked to the desk clerk at the hotel where I’d spent so much time and asked him what it had been like to be in the city on that day. The hotel was on the Upper East side of Manhattan. Manhattan is an island 6 miles by 11 miles. The clerk lived in lower Manhattan. His son attended a grade school in lower Manhattan near the Twin Towers. When he heard of the attack, all transportation in New York had been shut down; no cabs, trains or buses. The clerk left his job and ran through barricades all the way to lower Manhattan to find out if his son was okay. It turned out his son’s class had witnessed the planes crashing into the buildings from the grade school window. He told me that even months later, his son could no longer sleep alone and climbed into bed with him every night. Life wasn’t the same, he lived in fear of another attack.
Cancer is like that, a terrorist attack on our bodies, but there is nowhere to go to hide, the terrorist is within. Cancer attacks us when we least expect it. After a cancer diagnosis we live in a high level of alert all of the time. We go from high alert to red alert with every CT scan, every test. We don’t trust what is around the corner, our own bodies are suspect.
Via my participation in the Scientist Survivor Program, I was very privileged to meet and speak with a renowned and personable cancer scientist, Dr. Geoff Wahl. He is passionate about our being “good ancestors” and leaving a legacy of a cancer-free world to those who survive us. He heads the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute in California and is a past president of the American Association for Cancer Research. He is truly one of my heroes. He has devoted his life to ending cancer’s reign.
Dr. Wahl wrote an article I wish you would read, Fighting the Terrorist Within. He states “Fighting cancer bears a striking resemblance to our fight against terrorism. Cancer strikes just as randomly and unpredictably, and it causes suffering, death and great personal loss to family, friends and loved ones left behind. Tragically, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks killed more than 2,900 people on that fateful day. On any one day, cancer kills more than 1,500 people in the United States alone – about one death per minute, or more than 564,000 Americans each year.”
I communicate daily with those who are victims of cancer’s terrors. I’ve lost many friends to the terrorist that is cancer. We need to devote at least as many resources to fighting cancer, the terrorist within, as we devote to preventing terrorist attacks on our country. We need a war on cancer. We do need to be good ancestors and to abolish cancer’s hold on the future of those who follow us.