This is a term used to describe cancer patients who did not die though they had cancer. To me this a very derogatory term. I have undergone cancer treatment 5 years back. I came out the illness successfully. Why call such a person a survivor? The patient has undergone a major treatment, faced it bravely, lived with dignity, how can the patient be called a survivor?
The word “Survivor” has following definitions which I am trying to understand.
- a person who continues to live, despite nearly dying
- a person who is able to continue living their life successfully despite experiencing difficulties
These definitions give a different flavour to the experience of going through cancer treatment. About 50 to 70 years back, C-word was a scary word and anyone who had cancer, it was assumed that the result will be death. Hence the term survivor came in use. Due to early detection, improved treatments, family and friends’ support, these days not every body detected with cancer, dies within a short duration. In fact % of people recovering the condition has gone up, drastically. Following points have jointly changed cancer scenario so much that I do not like being called cancer survivor. Why not a heart attack survivor? Why not a stroke survivor? Why not a nephritis survivor?
I will share with you the information that I gathered while I was undergoing the treatment.
In recent times there have been major changes in cancer management due to
1. Early detection
With awareness, with improved diagnostic tools people do go to their doctors early. It is definitely proven that early detection definitely improves the chances of getting cured like any other disease.
2. Advanced imaging technologies have created sophisticated diagnostics.
In olden days the only way to look inside the body was an x-ray or by surgery. With CAT scans, MRI’s doctors can really “see” inside and can even understand the different types, by looking at images.
3. Improvements in chemotherapy and its side effects
You will be surprised to know that in developed country England, first Oncology department was established as late as in 1970. The word chemotherapy brought out pictures of a patient losing hair on the scalp, patients having terrible side effects like diarrhea. But so much progress has taken place in this science that these symptoms are not seen in some patients. Instead of intravenous chemotherapy, now chemo tablets are available. The cost of the treatment has also gone down substantially.
4. The advent of treatments like Immuno therapy which has a couple types
- Stimulating your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells
- Giving you immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins
- This treatment is still costly but very effective in the certain type of cancers.
- Sometimes this is given in place of chemotherapy
- I was treated with Immuno therapy instead of Chemotherapy and had reasonably less side effect with no hair loss at all and minor weight loss.
5. Progress in surgical techniques which allows lesser and lesser removal of tissues.
In olden days, surgeries used to be drastic and a lot of body tissues were cut away. When I was in school, one of my father’s friend had cancer in the facial area. His left side including the left nostril, was simply removed! In my case, luckily, the only surgery that was needed, was for biopsy purpose!
Now with improving surgical techniques where surgeons use probes, many times surgery is not drastic.
6. Radiation treatment
- There have been tremendous changes in radiation therapy. It appears that Radiation therapy will be the cancer treatment of the 21st century. There two major new methods have been proven and are used extensively
- Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) is the use of imaging during radiation therapy to improve the precision and accuracy of treatment delivery. IGRT is used to treat tumours in areas of the body that move, such as the lungs.
- Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) uses linear accelerators to safely and painlessly deliver precise radiation doses to a tumour while minimizing the dose to surrounding normal tissue.
- The radiation oncologist will speak with you to determine whether IMRT is the most appropriate treatment for you. If so, your doctor will perform a physical exam and use CT scanning to conduct a treatment simulation session. Other imaging procedures may be used to help determine the exact shape and location of your tumour, and a special device may be created to help you maintain the same exact position during each treatment. Your doctor will give you specific instructions based on the type of exam being performed. I was treated with IGRT.
7. Progress in awareness
- Perhaps the biggest change of the past 60 years has been in our attitudes. It’s no longer a disease to be mentioned in hushed tones, and increasing survival rates mean that more and more people are alive to share their story of beating cancer.
- People no longer have to hide a diagnosis of cancer for fear of what others might think, and numerous celebrities have gone public with their personal stories. Fundraising events for cancer charities are commonplace, generating vital money for research, advocacy and support.
- But, more importantly, we’ve also seen a big change in public awareness about the things that can cause cancer and the warning signs to look out for. Many organizations are working hard to improve early diagnosis of cancer by raising awareness of symptoms amongst public and health professionals.
- But sadly, one thing has not changed. Some people still believe in alternate medicines. These treatments rarely cure patients in large numbers. These people finally go for treatments discussed above, but many times its too late!
8. Progress in preventing cancer
The reason why someone gets cancer are many
- Scientists have slowly understood that it can be caused by some viruses too!
- Smoking is definitely the number one reason for cancer
- But some cancers also show hereditary links, out of which obesity is one of the main reasons
Friends, I have tried to explain the progress in the management of cancer. Deaths due to cancer are decreasing year by year but the number of cases is increasing. The reason is our life expectancy has gone up and the possibility of cancer increases with age. Another cause is smoking control; smoking is controlled world over in public areas. This is another reason for the decrease.
I am sure now you have understood why I am unhappy with the term cancer survivor. Now it is no more a dreaded C word. Any person undergoing a major health issue is nervous, tense and uneasy till the cure is achieved. Some achieve it some don’t! Heart attack deaths are even more in numbers than cancer deaths but people somehow accept heart attack event more easily. One good thing is now people openly talk about cancer! Public figures like Manisha Koirala, Sonali Bendre, Cyclist Armstrong are some names. On personal level, I was moving around for three months with feeding tube inserted in my nose. A friend asked me why I did not cover my face with a scarf to hide the tube, when I went in public? I asked him, “Why should I do it? I am undergoing a treatment and the tube is my major support device? There is nothing to be ashamed of to hide it!” Help cancer patients to remain more dignified by treating their disease as any other major disease by NOT using word Cancer Survivor!