The Pile of Bodies

Rodney Warner, JD
Rodney Warner, JD

For those us whose treatment has gone well, we often thank our treating physicians.  We might pat ourselves on the back for soldiering through miserable chemotherapy, surgery and/or radiation.  We might thank those lab coated researchers and the unfortunate furry creatures researchers do terrible things to.

But we should also thank those that have gone before us, our brothers and sisters whose treatments didn’t go so well, or not well at all.  Medicine learns, or at least, should learn, from its mistakes.  Physicians come up with the best treatments they can, but all too often, it’s not good enough.  No matter how much research is done, or how long a treatment regimen has been used, how an individual will respond to treatment is unknown until it’s actually tried.  Each one of us is an experiment.  Over time, trends are seen, maybe a regimen is changed, improved or abandoned.

I met a woman who had a very difficult time with a sarcoma.  Her treatments just weren’t getting the job done.  As a last resort, she entered a trial, which apparently cured her of the sarcoma.  But as a side effect of the treatment, she developed multiple myeloma, which, as I understand it, later killed her.  Those cured by the first treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma often later died of leukemia.   Radiation treatments for cancer started with patients being in restricted, unprotected, areas of nuclear power plants.  I don’t know how much was learned, but I don’t imagine the cure rate was very high.

For those of us with cancer in the rear view mirror, we could say we’re standing on the shoulders of medical giants, those incredibly intelligent, hard working, motivated doctors and researchers (and their lab animals) that made our treatment possible.  But we’re also standing on the pile of bodies of our predecessors, our brothers and sisters whose treatments failed and the medical community learned from its mistakes.  Without them, we wouldn’t be here.

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