Cancer sucks

It seems that most Australians have been affected in some way by cancer. The chances are you know a cancer survivor, remember someone who didn’t survive, have sympathy with someone undergoing treatment or have a friend or relative that knows someone who has been affected in some way.

One thing in cancer’s favour — it doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of your fame, wealth or power you can be affected by cancer. Within Australia alone, there are at least four foundations (and if you know of others, please leave a comment below) that have been established by people using their fame to amass funding for services to alleviate cancer in some shape or form.

Former test cricketer Glenn McGrath lost his first wife to cancer some years ago. His McGrath Foundation funds a network of specialist nurses across Australia that supports and assists sufferers of breast cancer (who can be male by the way) through discussing treatments, talking about issues and just being there with understanding and concern for the sufferer and their loved ones.

Apart from hosting The Project on Channel 10, Carrie Bickmore is probably best known for donning a beanie in her acceptance speech when she won the Gold Logie in 2015. The beanie was worn in support of her late husband who died of brain cancer five years earlier. Her foundation, Carrie’s Beanies 4 Brain Cancer funds research into brain cancer and there is a link from their website to the research they have funded.

Olivia Newton-John, apart from being a well-known actor and singer is a cancer survivor. She fundraises for, as well as puts her name to, a cancer treatment and research centre known as the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre in conjunction with the Austin Hospital in Melbourne.

Samuel Johnson also won a Gold Logie through appearing in a number of Australian movies and television series. His life focus changed significantly after his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and he pledged to raise $10 million for cancer research before he took another acting job. His foundation, Love your Sister, continues, although Johnson’s sister has since succumbed to her illness.

All the foundations above have details on their websites detailing how they assist cancer sufferers and their loved ones. All of the foundations will also accept website donations — which might be a good use for some of the Australian Government’s lower/middle income tax rebate if you are fortunate enough to receive any of it. Needless to say, there is a significant amount of research being undertaken across the world to understand the root causes of cancer, treat the symptoms, find cures and ensure those afflicted have a reasonable quality of life while undergoing a (hopefully) successful treatment.

Some of the research into cancer and other diseases with high mortality such as mesothelioma is understanding personalised medicine. When you think about it, if you ever owned a 1960s Holden and took it into a dealer and told them the oil light was on, they would go through a process of elimination to work out the issue. Even though each iteration of a particular vehicle model is supposed to be identical, there are differences in tolerances within the parts used in each individual vehicle, each vehicle is driven differently and there are other factors such as climate which ensure that different parts fail at different times. In the 60’s, the dealer’s first step might be to ensure the wire between the dashboard and the sensor unit was still connected, then ensuring the oil pump was working and so on until the problem was fixed. Like cars, humans are not genetically identical. In a similar way to troubleshooting a problem with an older car, cancer treatment has up until now been a process of elimination. If drug A doesn’t work on your particular version of cancer, try drug B and so on. The pity is by the time you get to drug D or E or F, whichever is effective in your individual case, there is a significant period of time that has elapsed between initial diagnosis and effective treatment. This isn’t the fault of anyone — the oncologists have been using the best information they had at the time.

Times change. The dealer would now download the diagnostic details from the on-board computer of a recent model Holden when you report the oil light stays on, then repair or replace the item indicated by the fault code. Personalised medicine is a process whereby some samples are taken from the person affected by the cancer and the individual’s treatment plan is determined to a large extent by the testing of the samples using research into the human genome. Unfortunately, the human body is far more complicated than the systems that make a Holden work so there is a need for more research and infrastructure before the personalised medicine concept is available to all.

Research into the uses and benefits of personalised medicine is occurring across the world. Some examples are the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia and the United Kingdom’s NHS.

At the same time as the Australian Government passes $158 Billion of tax cuts over the next five years have a guess how much was budgeted for research into personalised medicine addressing cancer and other high mortality illnesses over a similar period — only $15 million.

What do you think?

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