November 23, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: Cancer, The Future, and Something About Faith

My most recent post on my GUY’S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER deserve reiteration. To read the entire thing, you can go here: However, the most important point is below:

“adolescents from EVERY walk of life – internationals, recent immigrants, born-and-raised-heres, white, black, Mexican, Ecuadorian, rich and privileged, poor and homeless, and from every socioeconomic status and race you can ask about. They all understood; they all offered various degrees of sympathy (the ones who were grossed out covered their mouths in horror and apologized), and there were others as well, who totally ignored the elephant in the room (or the gauze on the face as the case  may be).

“I got the same response when it became general knowledge that my wife had breast cancer.

“For whatever reason, this horrendous disease unites people across all sorts of boundaries, imagined or real. This joins people into a cohesive mass that says only one thing, “I know someone with cancer, and I hate cancer.” It unites us in our Humanity through our vulnerability. Breast cancer, skin cancer, liver cancer, leukemia, brain cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer...and every other kind of cancer can strike any person, any where, any when. You can live in a New York penthouse and have 82.2 billion dollars and you can get cancer. You can live in the Congo-Kinshasa and make nothing a year and you can get cancer.

“At this time in history, the only thing all Humans share cancer.”

For all we trumpet our miraculous advances in this, that, and the other thing, we do NOT have a handle on cancer. Certain kinds of cancers we can successfully treat – childhood leukemia, breast cancer (if discovered early enough), testicular cancer (again, if discovered early enough); others are a death sentence – pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, lung and bronchial cancer. I’ve known people who have recovered from and died from all of the above cancers. When viewed from a certain perspective, it is grim indeed.

The SF community, which has typically assumed that cancer “will be cured in the future”, occasionally admits that science will NOT discover the silver bullet for every disease known to mankind: “[Laura] Roslin is told that she has breast cancer and a year to live. Roslin attends the ceremony, and upon leaving, the Cylons attack the Twelve Colonies.” [reimaged BATTLESTAR GALACTICA]. I can’t find another SF novel that has as a major theme a character with incurable or inoperable cancer – so if anyone knows of one, please share it below and I’ll integrate it into this essay.

So – the question is WHY, when so many Humans suffer from some sort of cancer – don’t we offer solutions as readily as we offer paeans to our eventual Transcendence? Why do we focus on our hard work at shattering the light barrier? How about aliens – how many aliens do you know of in SF who “have cancer”?

Is the assumption that cancer will be cured, if not tomorrow then eventually, as much a myth as FTL, aliens, interstellar civilizations – and therefore it’s not something we need to write about?

Perhaps some of us SHOULD start writing about it. Cancer is a nearly universal Human condition. While Ebola makes better press copy, the fact is that over eight million people on Earth die every year from lung, liver, bowel, breast, and stomach cancer. Eight billion people and eight million deaths by cancer each year means that ANY Human’s chance of knowing someone who has died or will die of cancer this year is one chance in a thousand.

By comparison, my personal chance of knowing someone who died of Ebola SINCE 1976 are one chance in a million.

But the Ebola drama is more exciting, makes better fiction – and we know that with proper care, just about everyone who can be treated in the West will recover. There are no such happy statistics for cancer. No matter how much money we throw at it; no matter how rich we are; no matter how isolated a life we live; everyone and anyone can get cancer.

So how about it SF community – or even more interestingly how about it Fantasy community: shall we write about it more often?



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