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?