Thursday, February 17, 2011

Switching away from pink

When you know someone who is suffering cancer it seems like there just isn't enough money out there for research. As a scientist, albeit a non-medical, non-bio scientist, I get the proposal and funding process and fully understand that there is limited funds out there for really great ideas.

Breast cancer, at one point, was the cancer that people didn't talk about. A woman's problem. And not always terribly survivable. Thanks in large part, or maybe huge part, to the Susan G. Komen foundation this has changed. Breast cancer has turned into, in the last decade or so, a cancer with a much higher survival rate. Thankfully.

As someone who has lost a family member to cancer, I have seen in the cancer communities online, frustration with breast cancer research. "All the money goes to breast cancer", is the common lament. As someone who lost a family member to a rare cancer, it would be easy to fall into this. Nobody researched rare cancers. There is no payoff. A cancer that 4000 people get a year is terribly unfortunate. But who is going to research and make a medication to treat 4000 people a year. It doesn't make financial sense. (And I am a capitalist at heart.) I found this frustrating, financial sense be damned, you are talking about my mom.

Once my mom exhausted the routine treatments for her type of cancer (pretty quickly) she moved onto clinical trials where none of her options were targeted treatments for her cancer. It was frustrating to her. To all of us. Her participation in a clinical trial was akin to playing the lotto with the major benefit being to check off a researchers list - nope it doesn't work for this rare cancer. The researcher didn't hit the lotto and neither did my mom.

In the last few years I quit opting for pink. I bought the obligatory pink pin at work for $5, but my money hasn't gone to breast cancer research or to buy pink blankets with ribbons on them, or appliances with little ribbons on them. Instead my giving to the American Cancer Society went up as well as to the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. A small foundation that is devoted to this rare and fatal cancer.

I never stuff my change or money into the jars in the check out lines at the grocery store. But I stood there today reading what the cause of the day was, surprised to find out it wasn't breast cancer. Nope, pancreatic cancer. A cancer thought to be highly related to my mom's rare cancer, cholangiocarcinoma. I immediately opened my wallet and stuffed some bills in the cup that held pennies and a few dimes and nickels.

As a scientist I do understand that the research performed on breast cancer may very well lead to discoveries that help different cancers. That there are markers that are similar and may respond. I believe that the researchers are doing their best to save a lot of women. And they are saving a lot of women, thank God. (I have a high school friend who is battling breast cancer right now and I am very happy for the research that will hopefully give her a new lease on life.)

But my point? Let's not forget about all the others. A once small foundation has turned pink on its head and enabled many women to live strong.

Let's change the way people think about green now.


NanaNor's said...

Hi April, This is such an important post and I hope many will stop and think about their donations too. I too, am thankful for those I know who've survived breast cancer but what about our loved ones who had another type that ended their lives prematurely. Unfortunately, many of the cancer walks are prohibitive financially but ACS can always use our support.
Hugs to you today!

Andy Perdue said...

I have had this conversation with many in the "survivors community." I've often thought that if all the research dollars can get breast cancer solved (or mostly so), then perhaps we can move on to working on other forms of cancer. But I suspect the next shiny object won't be cancer. Heck, science doesn't even know what causes NHL, which is not necessarily rare.