Ted Kennedy and Hope

I was dismayed to hear about Senator Kennedy’s brain tumor, not least because the consensus seems to be that there is no hope for his survival. Speaking as someone told by his oncologist to prepare for death not so very long ago, I say to the Senator the following:

Do not, sir, give up this fight or yield even an ounce of your energy to despair or worry. If the enemy is fell and fearsome, do not forget that you yet have hope and avenues to pursue.

I am no expert on tumors, nor of the sort of cancer which caused Senator Kennedy’s condition. But I do know that research proceeds on all fronts, and there are possibilities today which were undreamed of just a decade ago. Just as my oncologist was unaware of new information and treatment options on Pseudomyxoma Peritonei when he considered my condition, so too there may be possibilities that Senator Kennedy’s doctors have missed. This is not a slight on the doctors, but simply an observation that there is a lot of information out there, and many times an informed and intelligent patient may find things that even his doctor has missed. On a less charitable note, I recall that my first oncologist behaved rather badly when I decided to get a second opinion from Dr. Lambert at M.D. Anderson, to such a point that I had to remind him of the provisions of HIPAA, specifically the part about the patient having a right to their own medical records. I worry that some medical professionals are less than humble about admitting the limitations of their knowledge; they simply refuse to ask for help or admit that someone else might be better able to meet a certain medical challenge.

Even as a layman, however, I am aware that there have been significant advances in the treatment of metastatic brain tumors, including hyperfractionation of chemotherapy rather than massive doses, and targeted radiation treatment using such things as proton therapy (which delivers radiation strictly to the tumor boundary and within, avoiding damage to healthy tissue) protocols. In short, there are many new tools which are not only more effective in these situations, but which also significantly reduce risk of impairment even as they protect quality-of-life. While Senator Kennedy’s doctors may well be familiar with these options, it is still vitally important for the family and the Senator himself to understand these options and to develop a course of action which gives him the best chance not only for survival, but for optimal quality of life.

It has been mentioned that Senator Kennedy’s politics make him something of a target for criticism, and in political debates this is fair enough. But I know from personal experience, that Cancer is a damnable enemy which respects no moral boundaries. It will attack a Republican just the same as a Democrat, a man or a woman with equal energy. Cancer is a horrifying malady, one which seeks to kill its victim, but only after excruciating torture. I know it too well, from my own cancer to my mother’s recent return of Breast Cancer, to the deaths of old friends and some new ones (and children – the damned thing goes after children as if it were the devil himself). No one deserves Cancer, and any victory over Cancer is a good one, one to celebrate. I pray for the recovery of Senator Kennedy and for his family’s comfort in this time. But I counsel the Senator to keep his courage strong for the fight ahead. It will be difficult, but it can be won.

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