As part of my work, I handle the marketing for scientific conferences, and one of my duties is to help produce their program books. This gives me access to research papers. A few mornings ago, I was proofreading the abstracts that had been submitted for a translational medicine conference. There is a lot under development right now and it’s all great – targeted immunotherapy for different types of cancers, technologies for gene modification, and new research for advanced ovarian cancer, to mention just a few. I am not sure how soon these developments will come into play or if they’ll just stay in a lab or in a research paper. Hopefully there will be more funding to support this research.
While reviewing the content for the program, I couldn’t help wondering if I will be here to see a big breakthrough. It also made me question whether or not I would have liked to be born during a different time. I found myself revisiting the 1980s, the time I grew up.
As many of you already know, I was raised by my grandparents in the Dominican Republic (D.R.). I know that I sometimes beat up on the culture there, on this blog, especially in relation to religious views and beliefs about illnesses, but there’s a lot of beauty and innocence there, too. (Even if it comes with some disappointing ignorance.)
While revisiting the 80s in my head, I remembered how my family didn’t have much. We lived in a small town, in a house with very few furnishings, including an old black and white TV that only showed a couple of channels – when the static allowed. We often kept our house doors open to feel the refreshing tropical breeze travel through our home and to smell the different fragrances coming from all the exotic fruit trees – mangos, papayas, oranges, and many more in our yard. I didn’t have many toys but there was enough nature around me to keep me occupied and happy – climbing trees, getting myself dirty with other kids, going to beaches frequently, drawing with chalk on the streets…just being kids. (My grandma was always sewing my torn socks and clothes back together. That’s how much fun I had, playing.) I cherish the memory of those days, and appreciate now the few material things I had.
I also remembered the only hospital we had in town. I recall having a couple medical emergencies as a child – one when I broke my chin and needed stitches (long story) and the other time was when something gross was growing on my skin that my grandma couldn’t cure on her own (she could cure most things). I recall being traumatized by both experiences. The hospital did not have enough resources and I felt pain both times. I think this is one of the reasons I fear medical procedures today. There were many urgent cases at this hospital and not every patient survived.
These memories also made me reflect on where we are today with the advances in medicine. Have we come far? I think in some areas we have. But in relation to cancer, I am not too sure. People are living longer, but there seem to be more cases everyday now, and many still die from the disease. And the treatments continue to have harsh effects on patients. Still, I am grateful to be dealing with cancer today, rather than, let’s say, 20 years ago. Will things improve even more in the next 10–20 years? I would hope so. But to get there, we need more education, more funding for research and a shift in our culture – for example, positive thinking doesn’t cure cancer. Science could, though.
And, going back again, I’ve been thinking about my family in D.R., and how things might have turned out for them if they were living today, in a different time (and place). I imagine my grandma as a cancer survivor. She didn’t even get the right diagnosis from her doctor back in D.R. in 1997. He operated on her without even doing a scan. That made her ovarian cancer, which was already stage 4, a lot worse. Both the system – with the lack of resources — and the doctor killed my grandma. I imagine a time where my great-grandma would have survived her breast cancer (at the age of 49), and having a doctor who would have emphasized the urgency of her health situation. I imagine a time where my great-aunt would have lived longer than 59 years. I imagine a place where my cousin would have been more educated about cancer and would have checked her lump as soon as she felt it, and survive longer than 46 years. Perhaps.
And then, I imagine myself in the future, or a different time and place, where I would have a greater sense of freedom and a chance to take more risks (such as building a family) without the fear of recurrence or dying from the disease I deal with. Is it possible I will be here for that future time?
Of course, I am just daydreaming about this wish to time travel. Would it really be better in the future? I would never know what things I would be missing or giving up if it really were possible to choose to live in a different time. And knowing the life I lived as a happy child back during the 80s, and the life we are faced with today, I think I would prefer to live now.
I guess my challenge today is figuring out how to do that. Live. Now.
Share a memory from your childhood.
Do you wish to travel to a different era? If so, where to?
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Beautiful post, Rebecca. I often wonder if my treatment would have been the same if this happened to me 20 years later and, the answer is, of course not. So many advances are being made and I am hopeful that the young (and older) men and women who get breast cancer will receive treatment that is not as harsh and damaging.
We can only get what the best is now, which is never enough really. It just isn’t. But that’s also why I did every clinical trial and study that was offered to me (within reason). So I do my part for future generations. I think that is our duty. So many men and women did it for us.
Thank you, Carrie. I agree with what you are saying. It is our responsibility to help and contribute to advances in research. Like you, I try to get involved in everything research-related. Hopefully, our efforts will help future generations.
I hope you’re feeling better about your arm and that your doctors figure out what’s going on. xo
So much to reflect upon. As you know, I grew up in a small town and my childhood, for the most part, was pretty great. I’ve sometimes wondered what it might’ve been like to grow up in earlier times, and I definitely would not choose that if it were an option. Too many modern conveniences to go without for me! But then, I suppose future generations will look at these times and say the same thing. I also sometimes think about all the women (and men) who came before us who had breast cancer and wonder what their experiences must’ve been like – having a Halsted radical mastectomy for instance. Someday, I hope we can come up with less harsh treatments for cancer and other illness, or better yet, eradicate them. I agree with Carrie, it’s our duty to do what we can for future generations, and this goes across many realms, not just the medical one. And you’re right, live our best lives now. That’s all we can and should do. Still, time travel is an intriguing topic, that’s for sure.
Hi Nancy, I understand what you mean. Hard to go backwards when there are so many advances today. I do appreciate the time I grew up, although we didn’t have much, and technology was def. not part of our lives. Loved being curious and try to figure out things on my own. At the same time, I appreciate today, just wish my “today” had different circumstances — don’t we all. xo
I know that if I’d been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma even three years before I was, I would not be around today. My oncologist said as much when I got the news. And even people diagnosed at the same time as me or after have not made it, because responses to treatments are widely variable. But my team has told me that even if I do have a recurrence, their goal right now is to keep people alive until the next big thing. I’m hopeful that by the time my kids grow up, they might be able to just go to the doctor and they’ll use genetic scissors to edit out the mutation that causes melanoma. (When I first saw an article mentioning “genetic scissors,” my eyes almost popped out of my head. Sci-fi.)
I am so glad you are still here with us and that you were able to receive some type of treatment. Please stay well. I will have to look into “genetic scissors”. I have heard of CRISPR which is an amazing technology. I am actually handling a conference about this topic right now and can’t wait to read all their papers! Might end up writing about it here. There’s also EpiGenetics, another technology in the works – also handling a conference on this. There’s def. a lot going on, but we have to keep remembering our bodies are too smart. Our cells are too smart and figure things out. For now, I wish treatments were less harsh. And if I am here to see a cure for some type of cancer (all cancers are different), that would be amazing! xo
Agreed. All cancers have to go.
This is a great post. I enjoyed your description of your childhood and then was saddened by how cancer has robbed you and your family. My childhood was rough. I am from the Bronx, and I had some rough patches here and there, but at the same time, I had very good friends that made a big city seem smaller.
Hi Beth! I actually lived in the Bronx for a few years, as a teenager, after moving to the U.S. (rough transition!). You used the perfect word, “robbed” – very accurate, actually. That’s exactly how I feel, like it has robbed all of us. We do what we can with what’s left and try to create new meaning. It looks like you’ve done a lot for yourself. You deserve good changes, my friend. xo