Monday, September 8, 2008

Bigger Than Cancer

There was a huge telethon in the U.S. last weekend called "Stand Up To Cancer". It featured big names from the entertainment industry and aimed to get people to donate money for cancer research.

I'm going to say something now that only a cancer patient might get away with saying.

I think there are bigger problems in the world than cancer. I think of children who are born into poverty, who never have a chance at making a better life for themselves, who are, through no fault of their own, condemned to a life of violence, destitution, ignorance, and suffering.

If I had all the money in the world, I wouldn't put it into cancer research. I'd invest in children and giving them a future.

And if I were going to put money into cancer research, I'd put it into childhood cancers, not breast cancer or other adult cancers. Yes, even if this funding were going to save my life.

I know most of the people who read my blog are cancer survivors or have loved ones who are. Feel free to disagree with me. I'm curious to know what you think.

Do you think governments and the private sector should be putting so much money into cancer research or do you think, as I do, that there are more important social issues for public and private funding to go toward solving?


Tabrizi said...

I lost my mom to metastatic breast cancer only 2 weeks ago. Two weeks ago I would have agreed with you, that there are bigger problems than breast cancer. Today I feel that dying at 52, before meeting your grandchildren and accomplishing other goals in life, is too young an age to die. The world has so many problems and different problems affect people in different ways. Having just lost my mom I feel that breast cancer is not a legitimate cause of death. A couple of years from now I might agree with you more...breast cancer is only one of the global problems that need to be addressed.

Riel said...

Re: Cancer research should be focused on children's cancers not adult cancers:

I think that your view is too simplistic because I think that children need adults to take care of them and bring them up too.

The situation for a household where the main breadwinner is ill with cancer is very different to one where the person requiring care is not the main breadwinner.

And take for example cervical cancer. It is an adult cancer, but with research, we managed to learn that a big contributing factor is the HPV virus and now we even have a vaccine for it. The research dollars spent on cervical cancer research has certainly saved many other children's mother's lives. Seems like a less noble gesture than plucking a kid out of the ghetto, but nevertheless, still makes a difference to many other children.

Shin said...


I think you're right. My view is a bit simplistic. I was thinking about children who get cancer through nothing they had any control over.

Meanwhile, adults raise their risk of cancer with smoking, drinking, taking drugs, eating unhealthy food, living unhealthy lifestyles, exposing themselves to toxic environments - many things they DO have control over.

I'm not saying we adults deserve to have cancer because we make choices that raise our risk. Nobody deserves to have such an insidious, awful disease.

But I feel children who have no choices should be exempt from such a terrible fate. If such a horrible disease has to exist, at the very least, there should be no childhood cancer.

Francesca Giessmann said...

Hmmm! Disagree or Agree??? Neither .. I think there is room for both!

Having lived in the US, I understand the power of celebrity into main stream awarness and I am grateful for any awareness/research/funds that is given to erase cancer ... or to at least making the lives of people with cancer more manageable and acceptable. I was the few fortunate ones that did not need to work during treatment and that my husband health insurance allowed us to receive top of the line care while my then 3 year old son having his life kept as the much normal as possible. yes, he saw his bald Mom laying in bed but CANCER did not interfere with his little routine of the world. Boy do I know that that is NOT the case to many young mothers that have to juggle jobs/child care etc. And I know an event like SU2C can help bring the best in people.

Regarding children: OF COURSE I would want to save a child before it saves me... from hunger, poverty AND Cancer .

But, maybe selfishly, by finding a cure to cancer, some more mother and fathers, like YOu and ME.. can continue to raise our children into great adults.

There are so many issue to be worked on in the world.. and Cancer is JUST ONE OF THEM... lets work on all of them!

Shin said...


I'm so sorry to hear about your mother. Theoretical ideas about social issues and policies may be fine and good, but they mean nothing when it comes to thinking about our own loved ones.

52 is definitely too young to die. And I agree that breast cancer is not a legitimate cause of death, mainly because I think we are so close to finding a cure right now.

I really believe there will be a cure within the next decade. That won't help you and it won't help me. But there will be others who will benefit from all the funding and research going into finding a cure for breast cancer as well as other cancers.

And for that, I am thankful.

Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shin,
I said I would keep reading and sharing your bolg and I have.
Ta Da!
The question of child poverty V cancer is a sideways question because where children are in poverty, the parents struggle, where there is struggle there is ignorance on a range of issues: social, economic, spiritual, health etc
If the parents find everything in their lives difficut, including care for their own children then it follows that care for their own health is also a problem.
The parents I work with in the inner city, would no more eat 5 fruit and veg a day than they would give up smoking or apply for a job.
It is ignorance that we have to target by providing a supportive scaffold for the vulnerable- only then does quality of life improve.
Support is tricky because you cannot condescend- which is why self improvement programmes are so popular: How clean is you house? Nanny 911, date finding programmes...................
People will accept celebrity but not teaching- but that is a whole other debate.
love Mary Ann, Katie's sister

Anonymous said...

Hi Shin,

Somehow I missed this post earlier and it just caught my eye this morning.

Basically, I agree and I disagree. Reading your post, it seems to me that you are assuming there is one fixed pot of money to be spent on the world’s many problems and you are posing the question of how that pot should be divided up (a zero sum game between these causes). Maybe most funding comes from pre-defined pools of charitable money, there are no spillover effects, and it really is a zero sum game, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case.

Perhaps increasing awareness on one issue, and encouraging people to donate time or money towards one problem, encourages those people to contribute to other issues. We humans are much more likely to take actions that we are familiar and comfortable with than those that are new. So all the money and effort invested into getting people to make a donation to “Stand Up To Cancer” might also lead to those people to being more charitable towards other causes.

Perhaps some people are only willing to contribute towards a problem that has touched them and will never contribute to another cause. Therefore it is better to get that contribution for that one cause than none at all. Also, any contribution to one cause could have positive spillover effects towards others. For example, those who are touched by breast cancer might contribute to breast cancer research which leads to progress in treating other forms of cancer.

Of course it makes sense to spend each dollar wisely, and not all causes are a big as others, but I don’t think anyone should beat themselves up because their preferred cause is arguably smaller than another. It all helps so just keep helping.


Shin said...


I agree that it's not a zero sum game. But I stand by my assertion that if I had, let's say $5 billion, I'd put it all into giving disadvantaged children a chance at a decent life rather than give it to cancer research.

I neglected to mention in my post, thinking I might offend some fellow cancer patients, that cancer is a disease mostly of the wealthy and old, while the lack of a chance at a better life is a "disease" of the poor and young. Some might consider it a tough decision, but I'd choose helping the poor and young over the well-off and old.

P.S. Are you Jamie R. or Jamie N.?

Anonymous said...


And my fingers are crossed hoping you are sleeping soundly right now.

Jamie R

Shin said...

Jamie R,

Insomnia again. And I have so many drugs in my body, I don't even know which of them is causing this sleeplessness.

Has anybody else out there taken the following drugs and had this same side-effect?

Codeine phosphate