Faster than the Speed of Cancer


New cancer treatments have offered me hope.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Khevin Barnes

I walked to the refrigerator today and pushed my drinking cup against the sensor that dispenses ice. As the cubes rattled inside my empty glass, I marveled at the modern technology and convenience that automatic ice makers give us. But more importantly, I thought about how much of the world in which we live, I take for granted. And that sequence of thoughts reminded me of the many advances in breast cancer research that have improved outlooks and extended lives like mine since my own diagnosis of male breast cancer nine years ago. I’m alive today because of science and medicine. (By the way, refrigerators weren’t invented until 1913. My mother still referred to ours as “the ice box” until the day she died.)

The speed with which modern medicine has accelerated in my lifetime, and indeed, in the few years since my own cancer appeared, has been astonishing to say the least. Consider the processes of mapping and editing genomic data, CART-cell therapy, liquid and synthetic biopsies, cancer vaccines and so much more. It’s mind-boggling for most of us. I’ve tried to follow the news as it escalates and changes daily, and CURE® has always been my primary source for up-to-date cancer news. And while I can’t lay claim to understanding much of it, the advances and technology I see, even within the confines of my own form of the disease, adds a splash of hope each and every day.

As an example, from my own breast cancer, “sentinel lymph node surgery” was developed in the 1990s. In 2014, that surgery limited the number of lymph nodes that I had removed and among other things, reduced the risk that lymphedema would develop in my body. 

I sometimes think to myself that this is a “good time” to have breast cancer. That’s a ludicrous thought of course, and it doesn’t last long, but the advances in detecting and treating cancers of all kinds have skyrocketed in the years that I’ve been following the new discoveries.

One might assume that after nearly a decade of being cancer free, I would just get back to my old life and forget about the threat that once scared me out of my wits. But what I’ve found to be true is that the cancer “experience” is forever. And with male breast cancer being the obscure and often overlooked disease that it is, there are many reasons to remain active and available in the cancer conversation.

It’s true that many of the latest advances in breast cancer treatments have been seen in our female population. Women, after all, represent most breast cancer cases. But a step forward for one is a step for all.

Carl Sagan, the astronomer who brought the world of science to many of us before he died of a bone marrow disease once said, “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” I see modern cancer medicine the same way. While the experts continue to amass information about the nature and methods through which cancer behaves, the imaginative ways that researchers investigate and postulate new treatments has created a path to discovery that seems to accelerate with each passing day.

So, is it “a good time to have cancer?” Never. But in my case, it's a promising time.

As I watch the news and see the remarkable new discoveries that appear regularly, I know that one day my own cancer can return. While the latest advances may not be relevant to my survival this minute, it feels like “medical money in the bank” to me to see the new possibilities that just may end up helping me, and many others, in the future.

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