by Adam Cohen and Shari Hawkins
I don’t know the last time we spoke or heard from each other, but recently I have received news from my oncologist that things aren’t going so well.
On November 10, because my chin and left part of my jaw were tingly (like Novocain wearing off) I had an MRI: It was discovered that my breast cancer had spread to the cranial fluid surrounding my brain. The prognosis was 2-3 months without treatment, 4-5 months with treatment. The treatment would have involved brain surgery and many treatments, with poor quality of life during that time.
Needless to say, I have chosen the former.”
Debbie Ocker wrote this letter in November of last year. That was 38 years after President Richard Nixon declared war on cancer in his 1971 State of the Union speech, then signed the National Cancer Act to make the “conquest of cancer a national crusade.” Her letter came after the federal government, drug companies and private nonprofits had spent roughly $200 billion in search of cures. It followed an estimated 1.5 million papers that scientists, including many at OMRF, had written analyzing the basic biology of cancer.
Yet there Ocker still was, counting the months.
The 58-year-old math teacher at Oklahoma City’s Putnam City High School was far from alone. In 2009, cancer took the lives of more than a half-million Americans. That’s 1,500 people every 24 hours, the equivalent of the Titanic sinking 365 days a year. It’s also 230,000 more U.S. lives than cancer claimed in 1971. To be fair, our country’s population is significantly larger and older than it was four decades ago. But in a given year, the disease still kills 184 out of 100,000 Americans, an improvement of only 7.5 percent since 1975.