Oncology is a grim discipline. Most new drug studies show no benefit and fail. Cancer therapies extending life by two months obtain FDA approval, and oncologists herald them as progress. Response rates of 2 and 3% win applause. The science crawls forward one small lurch at a time, starved for new data, consuming the lives of patients and the careers of researchers as it plods along.
And yet they do not give up, even if privately some may have low, dispirited moments. Oncologists rock! I don’t know if they’re unfaithful lovers as they’re labeled in Anthony Marra’s brilliant novel “Constellation of Vital Phenomena” (a must-read). I do know they are faithful to their mission.
But what is it? From the mouth of POTUS himself, we’ve recently heard of the “moonshot” to cure cancer. Vice-president Joe Biden will lead the government’s support for it. From what I understand, he has taken it seriously, and as recently as last week visited with the oncologists at the University of Pennsylvania.
What I’m sure he already understands is that there is no such thing as cancer, singular. There are thousands of different mutations giving rise to diseases we then label as the cancer of the organ in which they are found. Cancer is a genetic disease. The longer we live, the more time our genome has for potential damage. The more hazards we introduce into our environment—radiation, pollution, infection and inflammation, etc.—the greater the likelihood a cell or two will replicate out of whack. The result: cancer.
I hope the “moonshot” takes a holistic approach. Here’s what Joe Biden will likely attempt, and will have a fight on his hands with the science skeptics in the Congress to accomplish:
This truly will be a “moonshot.” We can help Joe by voting to elect public officials who understand what it will require and who will represent us rather than the near-term corporate interests. Do not stay home on Election Day.Tags: Anthony Marra, cancer, education, Joe Biden, moonshot, science