Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Year of Cancer

This post has next-to-nothing to do with investing, so only read further if you're interested in more "personal" stuff. I originally posted this on Seeking Alpha, so you can read it there instead if you prefer.

Today is a year to the day that my wife was first diagnosed with cancer. It was a very sobering day; especially as I knew enough about this type of cancer to know how poor her chances were and are (perhaps luckily for her, she *didn't* know what she was getting into, and that probably helped preserve her optimism).

Since the time of diagnosis, there has been surgery, radiation, and three forms of chemo. Surgery addressed the immediate problem (a tumor that had grown from the size of an almond to a hockey puck in about five or six weeks), but most of the interventions have done little to help. The second round of chemo shrank the tumors, but that only lasted for about six months (bang in line with the median response). Now she's looking at the last proven therapeutic option for her type of cancer (or at least the last with a response rate that actually supports any hope).

A lot has changed. My productivity has plunged. I've gone from routinely writing about 1,000 articles a year to a pace where I may only halfway there this year. Funny how work really is a "habit".
A lot has also changed about how I look at healthcare and biotech/pharma. I wish there was more that the FDA could do to squash the frauds, crackpots, and scum who try to promote their phony fake cures for cancer and try to propagate myths about how "deadly" chemo is and how the healthcare system is simply trying to scam them.

I'm also grateful that there are doctors who choose to go into oncology - in effect choosing a field where they know they will lose a large number of patients instead of a specialty that offers far more certain positive outcomes on a regular basis.

Last and not least, I've learned how much months matter. Whether or not a drug that extends life by 6 months is "worth" $100,000 or more is a subject for another time, but those months matter a lot more when you're living through them one at a time. It's ridiculous that anybody in his or her early 40's should feel grateful to get another six months, but that's how it is.

On a related subject, it's interesting how much timing matters. If my wife had been diagnosed with this disease five years ago, none of her chemo options would have been available outside of clinical trials. In stark terms, she'd mostly likely be dead by now were that the case. Because of its complexity, I don't believe I'll live to see a point where cancer is like or HIV (serious, but very treatable/manageable) but given how much has changed just in the last five or 10 years, there's nevertheless hope that further improvements will come.

And when it comes down to it, hope gets you through a lot. I've learned that over the last year.

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