Former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk Dies From Cancer, Acid in Palm Oil Linked to Cancer Spread and More

From the death of Frederik Willem de Klerk to study results showing palm oil contains an acid that may cause cancer spread, here’s what’s happening in the cancer landscape this week.

Former South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk died from cancer.

Frederik Willem de Klerk, former president of South Africa who led the country during the end of apartheid, died from cancer this week.

After his death, his foundation shared a video apology for the decades of apartheid that took place in South Africa.

"I, without qualification, apologize for the pain and the hurt and the indignity and the damage that apartheid has done to Black, Brown and Indians in South Africa," said de Klerk, according to Reuters.

He was 85 at the time of his death.

"Allow me in this last message to share with you the fact that since the early 80s, my views changed completely. It was as if I had a conversion," de Klerk said. "And in my heart of hearts, I realized that apartheid was wrong. I realized that we had arrived at a place which was morally unjustifiable.”

Nelson Mandela’s foundation said that de Klerk would be forever linked to Nelson Mandela in the annals of South African history. Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their roles in getting rid of apartheid.

A U.S. Veteran who was exposed to open burn pits while serving in the war died from cancer.

Wesley Black, a U.S. Veteran who served with the Vermont National Guard in Afghanistan and Iraq, died from colon cancer this week.

Black, 36, was exposed to smoke from open burn pits in which the military burned human and plastic waste during his time in the war. In 2018, President Joe Biden said that he believes toxic burn pits may have contributed to his son, Beau’s, glioblastoma diagnosis. Beau died of the disease in May 2015.

Black reached a $3 million settlement this summer after suing the White River Junction VA Medical Center for their ineptitude in diagnosing his cancer. Black explained in the lawsuit that the VA doctors did not diagnose him even though he had lost 75 pounds and was having severe intestinal issues. After being told he had irritable bowel syndrome, he went to the emergency room to treat rectal bleeding and learned he had stage 4 colon cancer.

The court case was formally closed on October 19 and included $500,000 for a trust for his son.

“I know I’m not the only one this has happened to, but I feel kind of like the canary in the coal mine,” Black told the Valley News in May 2020.

He is survived by his wife, Laura, and their 5-year-old son.

“Wes was a devoted husband, loving father and someone I’m honored to have called a friend,” said Dan Perrone, one of Black’s attorneys. “The world was truly a better place with him in it … After being diagnosed with terminal cancer stemming from his military service, he used the tragic hand he was dealt as a platform from which to raise awareness about the harmful effects of burn pit exposure. His heroics and advocacy have and undoubtedly will continue to save lives.”

A woman from Colorado climbed a 14er during cancer treatment.

Kim Bierbrauer, 45, was diagnosed with leukemia in May of this year. She began treatment soon after at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute and told her doctor in September that she wanted to climb Mount Bierstadt.

“Yeah, I was very surprised,” Dr. Luke Mountjoy said to Fox 31. “This is the first time I’ve had a patient on therapy do the things that she’s doing.”

The mountain is a 14er, which means it sits at higher than 14,000 feet in elevation.

Bierbrauer worked with her doctor to plan a window of time for her to climb the mountain after her first stage of treatment. In October, she successfully completed the climb with her husband, two of her sons and several family friends.

“Going forward — and knowing that these next few months are going to be less fun for me, they’re going to be hard — I think having these moments to look back on, and look forward to, that’s what I think about,” Bierbrauer said.

She printed out photos from the climb to look at after she undergoes a bone marrow transplant this week.

Study results revealed that a fatty acid in palm oil may encourage cancer spread.

A study on mice from Nature found that palmitic acid led to metastasis in mouth and skin cancers.

“There is something very special about palmitic acid that makes it an extremely potent promoter of metastasis,” said Salvador Aznar-Benitah, professor at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), Barcelona, to The Guardian. “I think it is too early to determine which type of diet could be consumed by patients with metastatic cancer that would slow down the metastatic process.”

Palmitic acid is found in palm oil as well as a wide variety of foods. Exposure to palmitic acid caused changes to how the genes in cancer cells function, which led them to sense fatty acids and consume them more efficiently.

“Given the prevalence of palm oil as an ingredient in processed foods, this study provides strong motivation for further study on how dietary choices influence the risk of tumor progression,” said Greg Hannon, director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

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