Was It My Turn?
Those of you that have been kind enough to read my columns the past couple of years may have noticed that each October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I write about the disease that killed my wife. This year, there is a more personal touch to my writing.
My cardiologist did not like certain aspects of my blood work, so he said I should see a “blood doctor.” “Hematologist “ could now be added to the legion of healers visited in the past 20 years. Dialing the number of the doctor he recommended, the only words I remember the receptionist saying
were “Cancer Center.” The doctor I was being referred to was not a hematologist, but an oncologist. The cardiologist must have suspected something more was afoot.
Oncologists tend to work in groups and thus have large office space and huge waiting rooms. All the time spent with my wife in such places is a reoccurring nightmare. Chairs filled with people in the fight of their lives, a fight many, if not most, would lose. Sitting in my seat in this unhappy place, waiting for my name to be called, I wondered if it was my turn to enter the ring with a disease that does not lose many fights, but earns a victory after countless rounds of chemo.
Why didn’t I eat more fish, why didn’t I drink less, why didn’t I eat more leafy greens, why…..?”
“Mr. Utt,” the nurse called.
The oncologist was a jolly old elf who immediately put me at ease. He asked many questions, reviewed my medical records from other doctors, and gave me a brief physical exam. He patted my knee and said, ”I am going to order lots of tests for you, not because I found anything, but just to be sure.”
That was reassuring, but can you trust jolly elves? Was he trying to keep a very nervous man from more sleepless nights? I remember all the calming things said to my wife during her last years.
During the next week, I had enough blood drawn to be used in a good slasher movie. I had scans. I waited in the cold reception room once again.
The doctor entered the exam room with papers showing the results of my tests. “We will check it again in three months. Then maybe, maybe, a type of infusion and a bone scan. But no big problem we need to act on right now,” he said reassuringly.
I felt my blood pressure lower, and thought briefly about kissing him on the lips. The euphoria lasted until my exit through the waiting room where sat people who I was sure would not receive the relatively good news just given to me.
Cancer kills about 1,500 Americans every 24 hours. That is like a Titanic going down every day, a 9/11 every two days. By year’s end, over half a million deaths due to cancer will have occurred.
When asked what will cure cancer, one oncologist answered, “money.” More fortunate than most, I am able to give significant sums to Breast Cancer Research Foundation to aid their tireless work in finding a cure. But, I am not most people. Here is where our government needs to play a leading role. The preamble to the Constitution speaks of, among other things, “promoting the general Welfare.”
Certainly, fighting the scourge of cancer would fall under promoting the general welfare.
That is why I was so discouraged to see President Trump’s proposed budget call for a $1 billion reduction for the National Cancer Institute. That is a 19% reduction. Dr. Daniel Hayes, past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, said recently, “Such extreme reductions to programs that are critical to research will fundamentally damage our nation’s progress in treating patients.”
The president’s budget, as he promised, included a healthy increase for defense, even though we currently spend more than the next seven countries combined. But the budget blueprint calls for a $5.8 billion cut for the National Institute of Health. Seems like we may be safer, but also sicker, if this budget is adopted.
Perhaps Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, and President Trump could think just a little more about all those people in the cancer center waiting rooms.
James Utt hopes he is not one of the 1.6 million Americans to be diagnosed with cancer this year.