By Jessica Gorman
The Way Forward
By Jessica Gorman
I vividly remember the moment I entered my mother’s hospital room after her first surgery for colorectal cancer, in 1991. I inhaled deeply, not wanting her to see my shock. My superhuman mom was frail and in pain. I was 17, the second oldest of five children, and in that brief moment, I glimpsed the first hint of the way cancer would upend our lives.
My parents, of course, were in new territory, too, racing to find second opinions, understand their options, and decide on a course of action—all the while still needing to handle the daily routine: care for the kids, meet work deadlines, and pay the (mounting) bills. They researched treatments using old-fashioned shoe leather: banging on the doors of co-workers and strangers, making phone calls to hospitals, asking around to find out who was doing the latest clinical trials, who was the best surgeon, and who would treat my mom’s wishes with respect.
For seven years, cancer was a way of life in our family—a path none of us could have expected. When my mom died in 1998, my parents had done all they could.
Nearly 20 years since that day in the hospital, parts of my family’s story still mirror those of many of CR ’s readers. But so much has also changed. Incidence and survival have improved for many cancers, and biomedical research is producing innovative therapies and diagnostic tools. Studies are finding that lifestyle interventions, like the exercise described on pg. 24 of this issue, can reduce the risk of recurrence and death for patients like my mother. And hospitals are expanding the roles of professionals like social worker Les Gallo-Silver, profiled on pg. 40, who care for patients in their lives beyond treatment.
Perhaps most of all, the availability and visibility of cancer information and support have exploded—both online and in the form of patient support and advocacy groups.
The elevation of cancer in the national consciousness has also highlighted the ways in which cancer care is lacking—and the efforts aimed at correcting these problems. We might take a cue from rural Appalachia, for instance, where partnerships among local citizens and researchers, highlighted on pg. 30, are changing the landscape of care by creatively addressing the dismal cancer death rates associated with poverty, tobacco use, and low rates of cancer screening.
Ironically, while efforts are under way to introduce much-needed screening in places where it’s not available, we’re confronting new information that suggests many Americans are being overscreened, a topic we tackle on pg. 56. The controversial new screening guidelines are based on evidence showing there may be more harm than good associated with the old regimens. Yet, as Jenny Song explains on pg. 14, science and emotions don’t always align when deciding whether to be screened. And these complexities underscore the importance of the work cancer researchers are doing to improve these tests.
After four years as CR’s deputy editor, I am proud to lead it forward into 2010 as its executive editor. And as CR celebrates its fourth anniversary this year, you will notice some exciting changes, including expansion of our social media interactivity and new features in the magazine. Our core goal remains: to provide the rich and reliable information that you have come to count on from CR. Because although much progress is being made, cancer continues to upend too many lives.
Jessica Gorman, Executive Editor
(photo: Samy S. Mir)