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CancerLynx - we prowl the net
October 2, 2000

There Is No Cure for Breast Cancer
Karolen I. Paularena

In Memorium
Karolen I. Paularena
February 23, 1957 - July 18, 2001

Her willingness to address difficult issues was one of her strengths. If something seemed morally correct, she did it. - John Richardson

Every year about 186,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. You'll read that statistic a lot during October, which is "Breast Cancer Awareness" month, and you'll also read a lot about educating women (and men) about the benefits of early detection of this disease.

Unfortunately, the pink ribbons and the smiling faces are only part of the story. Each year about 40,000 unlucky women die of breast cancer. That means that over one out of every five women diagnosed with this illness will not be a survivor. Despite progress in early detection of the disease, there is as yet NO cure. Even early detection does not guarantee that there will be no recurrence of the cancer, and almost all women who have a recurrence later die from it.

I belong to an email list of women with breast cancer which has spread to other parts of the body. We are not all grandmothers who are facing a shortening of our full lives. A large proportion of the women are in their twenties, their thirties, and their forties (like me). Many of us have children, sometimes quite young. During "Breast Cancer Awareness" month, we often feel like a dirty little secret. Not much discussion is focused on those women out there fighting this disease in their bodies every day, hoping for a new treatment to come out and keep them alive long enough to hope for the next new treatment.

Please, when focusing on the good news about breast cancer, remember to be even-handed. Point out that there are women, such as myself, who for various reasons cannot participate in clinical trials because the criteria are so strict. Mention that "compassionate use" of drugs requires that the patient have the energy and time to contact drug companies; oncologists rarely have the time to do it themselves. And please don't forget to cover how this disease is an extra burden for women who are without health insurance, or alone, or uneducated.

I like to read good news in the paper. It's a shame to turn to it and see only the darker side of life. But in the interests of fairness, please don't let your eyes drift over the statistics as though there is only one side. I can tell you, I am a good statistic. I was diagnosed nearly 10 years ago, on October 1, at age 33, and given a 40-60% chance of living 5 years. Breast cancer in younger women is almost always more aggressive than it is in older women, unfortunately. Yet I am lucky enough to be a 10-year survivor of this disease. However, to end there denies that I have been in continuous and debilitating treatment for the past 32 months, and that only treatment has enabled me to live for so long. Go ahead and cover the road races and the ribbons, but please also cover those who will not only never run again, but will never see their sons and daughters running in their honor.

Karolen I. Paularena
October 2, 2000

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