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Cancer anger


It's been one of those weeks when cancer seems to be winning and I am angry. I try to stay positive, surrounded as I am daily by the ongoing battle between cells growing out of control and ways to stop them. Some weeks I feel positive when I hear from long-time survivors or read the positive results of a study on a new drug that might make a difference.The week started with a read through of a diatribe on our Facebook page that I missed the week before while on vacation. This reader was mad at the world and no matter how staff and other readers tried to reason with him, he went on about how CURE should be doing this or that as if we held the cure for cancer in the pages of the magazine. He was irrational and angry -- at cancer. Then I got a call from yet another friend with the news of a new cancer in her family. There were questions to answer about surgeons and staging. It's one of those cancers that my oncologist likes to call a "bad actor."Then today I learned that a woman I interviewed for a short piece on a Phase I clinical trial is now off the trial because it didn't have any impact on her tumor. I talked to her early in the week and she was so hopeful and enthusiastic that she drew me in that this might be it -- when I knew after 25 years of new drugs that were going to be "it" that it probably wasn't. But I could still hope. She has had stage 4 colon cancer since 2009 and all the standard drugs were no longer working. She had been waiting since last fall for this clinical trial to get up and running, hoping she would still be healthy and qualify. She was and she began the drug aimed at the cancer's stem cells on June 30. Stem cells are the mother ship of cancer cells and they are the hardest to kill because the body gives them some major defenses. They are also the cells that researchers suspect are at the root of cancer metastases. This new drug was going to shut down one of the pathways that kept the stem cell going. An added bonus was that this drug didn't have the nasty side effects of the others she had taken. When we talked, she said she felt great, full of energy and keeping up with her three sons, all under 13. I knew, and I am assuming she did, that Phase I clinical trials are not about finding curative properties. The only thing they are measuring is toxicity and dosage. This one was also looking at impact on tumor, so it gave some hope to those who were eligible, meaning all other drugs had failed. There have been a few -- very few -- situations where a Phase I trial made a real difference in survival. But this wasn't one of them. It makes me sad because I know she was only one of many people who learned that she had exhausted her options for drugs this week. It makes me beyond sad – and very angry at this disease. What do we do with the anger that cancer causes? How do you deal with it? Tell me so others can benefit.

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