Cancer: The Upside

August 20th, 2010

Two recent articles take a not-so-traditional look at cancer.

A piece in Wednesday’s New York Times reported that according to a study published by The New England Journal of Medicine, “patients who began receiving palliative care immediately upon diagnosis not only were happier, more mobile and in less pain as the end neared – but they also lived nearly three months longer.” The study showed that patients with fast-growing lung cancer who received treatment for the physical and psychological symptoms of the disease experienced “less depression and happier lives as measured on scales for pain, nausea, mobility, worry, and other problems.”

Contrary to the rumors that engulfed the debate over last year’s health care reform – “Death Panels” looking to “pull the plug” on Granny – the study showed that proper end-of-life care could actually be more effective in extending life than typical treatment. The authors theorized that “patients whose pain is treated often sleep better, eat better, and talk more with relatives,” minimizing their depression, which has been “known to shorten life.” Also, those who had undergone counseling and had discussed their options at length with their doctor typically chose to forego more aggressive treatments as their condition worsened, keeping them out of hospitals, which “are dangerous places for very sick people; they may get fatal blood infections, pneumonia or bedsores, or simply be overwhelmed by the powerful drugs and radiation attacking their cancer.”

And over at, Mary Elizabeth Williams has declared the week following her cancer diagnosis “the best week of [her] kickass life.” After announcing that her doctor had discovered melanoma on her scalp, Ms. Williams received an overwhelming number of emails, phone calls, and visitors with bottles of wine in hand. Strangers wrote in with everything from their “own stories of living with disease and beating the odds” to recommendations for “alternative healers in Illinois.” Her friends offered her the use of their medical marijuana cards and assured her that “wig sex is hot.” Though she has yet to undergo surgery, and is even unsure about how far the disease has spread, Ms. Williams writes that the love coming from the people around her has “kicked lousy news in the face” and given her the strength to tell cancer that it “picked the wrong crazy bitch to mess with.”