2011 Resolution: Let cancer's harmful legacies fade away

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I have an enormous extended family. It's so big, one of them could get sick and die and I wouldn't know about it until well after the fact.

Sure enough, one of my fifty-plus second cousins died of pancreatic cancer last week. He chose not to tell anyone outside his closest circle of friends, only gradually letting in the occasional family member he trusted as he neared the end. Such was his wish.

Cancer is personal, and each deals with it in his or her own way.

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But on the cusp of 2011, cancer remains a highly stigmatized disease. A guaranteed party conversation killer begins with the words I and have and cancer. Cancer has a peculiar ability to strike stupidity into people who don't have cancer (check out the Chemo Chicks' tribute to this stupidity, "Excuse Me?"). I would argue that if my relative had any number of other diseases, ones without such a stigma, he would have let more people know.

Rosanne Kalick didn't write a book on cancer etiquette (on the right) simply because she thought the title had panache; the word 'cancer' is asphyxiating, we have a near allergic reaction to it, the way it constricts the throat.

UNSCIENTIFIC OBSERVATIONS

I work at home and my wife has the car most days. So I walk wherever I need to go. I have a lot of reading to do, so I read while I walk. I've done it for 15 years. Normally the people I interact with don't give my book, whatever it is, a second look, or if they do it's because they've read it or the topic is interesting to them or they're flirting with me because I'm handsome and irresistible. But one day I was reading The Chemotherapy Survival Guide.

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I went into a bank, a pharmacy, a burger joint, and a mini-mart. Each person was cordial (this IS Texas after all) until they saw my book. Now it's one thing if I were reading a general book on Cancer—the implication would be vague. But a book about surviving chemotherapy is unambiguous.

It was not a figment of my imagination—all four people I spoke with not only clammed up, they also seemed to pull their shoulders back as though to keep their distance, lest I infect them.

Little surprise then to learn that according to so many people, one thing about cancer is, you find out who your friends are. The same can be said about losing a loved one; the people you hear from and the people who prove to be incredible to you in that difficult time are not the ones you expect them to be. While those you expect the most from, often turn out to be noticeably absent.

NOT TOO LATE FOR A RESOLUTION

Come on people. 2011 is among us and it's not too late for a resolution. Let's move toward a newer, more compassionate and intelligent understanding of cancer, not for cancer's sake but for the sake of the patients who suffer under the restrictions of old and ignorant legacies. We may still have a poor grasp on the disease, but we understand human suffering, and innately, within all of us, we know small, simple things we can do to contribute to its alleviation.

By Ross Bonander

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