Happy: A Quest for Life After Death

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Truth About Cancer

PBS aired a documentary last night, The Truth About Cancer, that prominently features Dr. "Dave" Ryan with one of his patients, Jamie. Mat thought it was a little eerie to see his doctor on TV talking to a patient with a diagnosis similar to his in the hospital he frequents.

The show is very well done (by a woman whose husband died of cancer), and Dr. Dave is great. There's a very funny argument in the show between Jamie and her dad about whether Dr. Ryan is flashy.

Trust me, he's not.

The only thing he could do to be less flashy would be to show up to work in his pajamas. And Jamie's dad must have missed the bit near the end for Jamie when Dr. Dave looks close to tears.

For the short version, here are some of the truths about cancer:
Fewer than one out of ten patients survive the common cancers (breast, prostate, lung, pancreatic and colo-rectal cancers) once the cancer has spread distantly through the body.
Nine out of ten cancer drugs that go into experimental trials fail to get FDA approval.
Thirty percent of all cancers are related to cigarette smoking.
Lance Armstrong won the lottery, in cancer terms. In real life, a positive mental attitude won't save you even if you wear a livestrong bracelet. Cancer survival is mostly about biology, and believing otherwise puts huge amounts of pressure on people with cancer.
OK, so I owe Mat an apology for that one.

There's a lot of discussion in the show of "smart drugs" for cancer, some of which Mat is up close and personal with. Some of this is covered in a lengthy interview with Dr. Dave on pbs.org (click on The Truth About Cancer and then "interviews with experts"). (Also check out the interview for a great example of a spell-checker run amuck. Dr. Dave isn't actually talking to Jamie about taking "kindness inhibitors," although I suspect a couple of people I know of taking those. It's actually "kinase inhibitors.")

Best of all, after reading the interview with Dr. Dave, I think I finally understand his baseball metaphors. And the fact that Mat's latest drug is a "home run" -- it's huge. It could have been a bunt single.