Hello SOTGC community,
This post was inspired by a recent talk I attended where Dr. Andrew Lowy (Chief of Surgical Oncology at the Moores Cancer Center at USCD) spoke about the research his lab has been, and is trying to continue doing, on treatment for Appendix cancer. He called his presentation “A tale of two tumors” which was filled with interesting preliminary findings as well as what could hopefully be proven to more effectively treat this rare cancer, if funding becomes available for their continued research.
Dr. Lowy’s work has been guided by the idea that for rare diseases, like appendix cancer, we cannot conduct traditional research studies due to the difficulty in gathering a very large patient group in one site; and the main institutes that grant funds for research generally seek to fund cancers that affect “most people.”
At the end of the presentation there were several questions posed to Dr. Lowy and one of them (more aptly the answer) still resonates with me. The question was along the lines of: “You say that this cancer affects one in a million people. So when there are other cancers out there affecting a much more significant portion of the population, why would a large institute put their resources into funding something where the enhanced treatment would only affect a small population suffering from the cancer?” Dr. Lowy said he understood where he was coming from but responded with: “But try telling a patient sitting in front of you, that has been diagnosed with this disease, that funding isn’t being given for research to cure them because it doesn’t affect a ‘significant’ amount of the population.”
This got me thinking…what value do we put on any ONE life, even if it is “only” one in a million? What if that were one of my loved ones, or one of yours, who was given this diagnosis and when asked what the options for treatment were, we were told “your type of cancer is very rare, so unfortunately research isn’t being funded to help find a cure, or even better treatment options.” How is one life in a million any LESS “significant” than another life that happens to share the same disease as many others do? Earlier that evening I sat next to a previous patient of his, who started crying when he came up to say hello to her. As he walked away she turned to me, hand trembling, as she wiped her tear away and said “that man saved my life!” Were it not for his department’s research for enhanced treatments and cures for that cancer…would that patient have had these past 4 years of her life, and been able to shake his hand and thank him for his help? Or would it have been deemed “too insignificant” to warrant the effort and diligence that he and his team commit to each day?
So if you get anything from this post, besides “be thankful every day that you wake up in good health” it’s that people like Dr. Lowy and his team of surgical oncologists fight every day to gather resources and discover better treatment options, so that ONE life can be better treated (and hopefully saved) because one in a million is significant enough!