Simon Kelner: How C for Cancer became C for Cautious Optimism

Kelner's view

Share

A close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer last year, and just before Christmas he had a very complicated and lengthy operation to remove his bladder. A little more than two years ago, I had a far less serious operation to excise one of my kidneys after I, too, had been diagnosed with cancer.

Last weekend, we were playing table tennis like a pair of youngsters. In fact, we beat an actual pair of youngsters, both of whom, as far as I know, had all their organs intact. In this rich, privileged world of ours, we take many things for granted, and even for cancer sufferers there is a level of expectation that medical science will deliver. I'm not saying that we have made light of our recovery, but we don't spend much time thinking about what might have been.

This, however, made me wonder: how long ago would our respective conditions have killed us off? The next day I was having lunch with another good friend, an eminent doctor, and I asked him that question. He was unequivocal: when he was a junior, 20 or so years ago, the scenario for those with cancer was entirely different from today.

He prefaced his answer by saying that while survival rates for many cancers – including bladder and kidney – have improved beyond recognition over the past few decades, there has not been the same progress in the treatment of lung and brain cancer. Clearly, advances in medicine have been significant, but other – often overlooked – factors have altered the landscape, too.

For a start, he said, there was still something of a taboo about cancer in those days. "A patient who had lung cancer," he explained, "would be told that they had 'a little spot on the lung'. There was relatively little awareness of the disease, and for most people, the Big C meant certain death.

"So fearful were patients that they presented their symptoms at a much later stage. Women would visit me with enormous tumours on their breasts, and men would have been coughing up huge amounts of blood. They must have known, and yet were so terrified of the consequences that they didn't want to confront the situation."

Today, awareness is high and there is much more openness about cancer. This creates a virtuous circle. Patients present much earlier, which makes it more likely they will survive, which takes some of the fear out of diagnosis, which in turn encourages others to seek early consultation, and so on.

There is much more discussion about the disease these days, and I was struck by the provocative comments in a newspaper yesterday by a doctor who contended that he'd rather die than endure the pain of treatment for advanced cancer. There was no point, he wrote, in prolonging life if there was no quality to it.

I'm paraphrasing, but he seemed to say: better to retire with a gin and tonic and a good book, and wait for the end. Research on the subject, however, indicates that the vast majority of patients would choose six months of painful treatment followed by six months of life rather than six months of life. I tend to agree.

The longer you hang around, the better. Who knows? Maybe they'll find another wonder drug.

 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup