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The great equalizer


It seems like every time I open the paper or turn on the television (or computer), I learn of another cancer diagnosis or death or impending death of a well-known individual. With 1,500 Americans dying a day from this disease, it shouldn't surprise me, but somehow I think we are socialized to see high profile individuals as different from the rest of us – somehow immune from the same maladies we common folk endure.Then I remember how shocked I was when it was reported that Jackie O died of lymphoma. If the world's wealthiest woman could die of cancer, anyone could.Last week it was two women whose names were known in political circles, Eleanor Mondale, daughter of former vice president Walter Mondale, and Kara Kennedy, daughter of the late Ted Kennedy. Granted, Kennedy's death was attributed to a heart attack, but her brother said treatment for lung cancer in 2002 had left her weakened. Mondale died of a brain tumor. The list for the year goes on. Steve Jobs, who founded Apple, stepped down from his role there and attributed it to his health – he has been dealing with pancreatic cancer for a number of years and it's clear from photos of him that he is not well. Laura Ziskin, producer of the Spiderman movies, died a few months ago of breast cancer. Cancer doesn't care if you are young or old, beautiful or ugly, well connected or a ditch digger. It strikes at random.Of course, it does help if you are white and rich when it comes to having a better chance at surviving. The wealthy can use connections to find the best clinicians and the clinical trials that may require travel and other costs. They also don't have to worry that they will have their treatment stopped in mid cycle because their insurance benefits have run out. And statistics show that racial and ethnic disparities exist in cancer care, even when insurance and socioeconomic status are controlled for – a disproportionate number of deaths occur in racial and ethnic minorities. We should strive for cancer as the great equalizer in proving that all Americans are worthy of the best cancer care available.

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