Wednesday, February 4, 2009

World Cancer Day

Cancer is the leading cause of death around the world. Up to 84 million people will die of it between 2005 and 2015 without intervention, according to the World Health Organization, sponsors of World Cancer Day on February 4th. Their website states that more than 70% of the 7.6 million cancer deaths in 2005 occurred in low and middle income countries.

Reading these statistics once again made me feel grateful for the standard of care I received during my own cancer experience. I have often reflected on how fortunate I am not just to live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but in the city that the most people say they want to live according to a recent poll, and one that has top-notch medical treatment facilities. Even people who live in rural areas of this country have a more difficult time obtaining cutting-edge treatment.

As Americans, most of us rarely stop to reflect on just how good we have it. We don’t have to worry on a daily basis about clean water, a comfortable and spacious place to live, access to food, energy and health-care. I had the luxury during my cancer treatment, of access to reiki, retreats and programs targeted to cancer survivors, and, more recently, services for people in my specific age group. Many people in developing countries might be lucky to receive a diagnosis in time to do something about it.

Some incidents in the past few weeks have given me cause to ponder the many modern conveniences we take for granted in this country. They both make our lives easier, and also make us reliant upon them. The electricity in my condo went out for 45 minutes one night last week, and I realized how little of what I normally do was possible or convenient without it. I had just arrived home from a trip and was anxious to do laundry, make something to eat and watch a little television. Couldn’t do any of those things without electricity. It was nice to be forced to sit with a flashlight and a magazine and relax for a little while.

My experience, by any standard, was a very minor inconvenience. Just a few days later, my family experienced a much larger inconvenience, but one that even they describe as “having many silver linings,” even as they are still in the midst of it. The two-inches of ice that blanketed Kentucky and the surrounding region recently was lauded as the storm of the decade for that area the day before it hit, but I’m not sure anyone imagined just how bad it would get. Weighted down by ice, trees and power lines snapped under the pressure, and everything from roads to cell phone towers were coated with the cold, slippery substance.

Electricity was interrupted almost immediately, and for many, their main source of home heat as well. Over the ensuing days, phone service – including cell phones – would be impacted as well, and finally, even water pressure couldn’t be maintained without the electric pumps used to get the water out of the tanks and into the pipes. Even though one large tree is leaning against both of their homes, and part of one tree came through my parents’ bedroom ceiling one night as they were sleeping five feet away, my parents and sister’s family count themselves lucky. They huddled together around the fireplace at my parents’ house, and were able to cook meals on the gas stove. They had plenty of batteries to power radios and flashlights, and a neighbor who still had cell service so they could let everyone know they were doing ok. As my other sister and I kept each other up-to-date on the latest news, we marveled at how quickly the myriad communication methods we all rely upon daily can be cut off. It seems unthinkable in this day and age that we couldn’t communicate when normally there are so many ways for us to keep in touch.

Estimates are that it could take as much as a month to restore power to many, and trees still block the road-ways a week later in much of the area. My mom commented that far from being bored, it was taking most of their time just to survive. Cooking meals, chopping wood, boiling water – all tasks that might have been common in this country 50-100 years ago, depending upon where you live, or in many third-world countries even now. When I remarked to my sister that many people in the world live like this everyday, she replied, “At least they are used to it.”

Good point – and brings us back full-circle to the fact that we are both fortunate to have so many modern conveniences, and also completely reliant upon them. It is only when we find ourselves without them that we are able to fully appreciate how much modern technology brings to our lives, and how much it increases our life expectancy. Today, on World Cancer Day, I will be thinking about those who are not fortunate enough to have the standard of care that we take for granted. But in harmony with the mantra, “think globally, act locally,” I will be supporting organizations in my community that are doing their part to make the lives of cancer survivors easier. I hope you will too.