The heroes you don’t know.

A couple of days ago, a friend posted that ridiculous “article” that had popped up about DCA and the “cure for cancer that no-one wants you to know about” on Facebook and asked if it was true.  I actually applaud this action;  my friend has no background in science, and when presented with something that seemed incredible, solicited advice on whether it was true.  I had to tell her that it wasn’t, but I still raise a glass to the spirit of inquiry.

But ever since I read that piece of tripe masquerading as an attempt at journalism, the whole story has been crawling under my skin, and I only figured out why today, when I was reading this great post from Steve Novella (linked to from an equally awesome summary of the whole DCA affair by Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing) about why there’s no hidden cure for cancer.  Novella writes:

Finally, there is the human element. A hidden cure would require individual people to know that a cure for cancer is available but to deny this cure to dying patients in order to protect their or someone else’s profit. There may be people in the world who are that callous and evil, but think of all the people who would have to be that evil, over years or decades, to maintain a hidden cure. These are people who also have loved-ones who are likely to get cancer at some point in their lives, and who themselves are at risk for cancer. I would not casually assume that the medical establishment is full with such cartoonish maniacal villains.

It’s actually this last statement which summarized the problem for me, which is that conspiracy theorists (and even people on the street) treat researchers and doctors involved in searching for cures to these diseases as the enemy.  And this bugs me.  Because I believe that the opposite is true:  they are much more heroes than villains.  These are people who will labor, day in and day out, sometimes for their entirety of their lives on a problem which has no clear solution and no timeline for discovery.  They will dedicate their energy and effort to this problem, despite demonization by ignorant members of the public, chronic underfunding, life and family stress that comes from long hours and often terrible pay, and the very real prospect that their work will never be recognized or understood by anyone outside of their own peer group.  These people aren’t firefighters or soldiers or any of the other groups that we traditionally hold up as paragons of virtue, but I’m making the claim here and now that they deserve this recognition.  Novella wrote:

Conspiracy theorists also tend to ignore the huge incentive to find a cure. For the researchers involved, it would mean fame, fortune, Nobel prizes and an enduring legacy within the halls of medicine. It is safe to say that it is every cancer researcher’s dream to be part of the team that finds the cure for cancer (or at least as big a breakthrough as is plausible).

And this is true.  But even if this were the biggest draw for researchers, it’s an incentive with pathetically long odds:  there are thousands of cancer researchers around the planet, at hundreds of institutions.  And when that one team makes a huge breakthrough or “cures all cancer”, they will be standing on the backs of a thousand of the unsung whose name you will never know.

I don’t wish to claim that the simple state of being a cancer researcher makes you a good person, any more than being a firefighter automatically makes you immune from sin.  But in the same way that we ascribe nobility to those classes of people who obviously deserve it (like firefighters), we should do the same for the people who are trying to save our lives with test tubes instead of guns or hoses.  So I say to you:  hug a cancer researcher today.  Or a researcher working on heart disease.  Or MS.  Or HIV.  Or indeed any of dizzying array of illnesses that people from every nation are fighting the good fight against in relative silence. And sparing a grateful thought for the doctors, the nurses, the technicians, the administrators who are all involved in this fight would probably not go amiss, either.

They’re working for you, and they deserve our thanks.


P.S. Here’s a representative example of what people really think, taken from a comment by “justanotherday” at the original article:

Couple of things one must consider. If there was an indisputable natural cure for all cancers, we would never hear about it. So, although this may be promising, if it every turns out to be a cure then it will be discredited and/or ban from the US or impose sever penalties if used for cancer. Cancer is annually a multi-billion dollar industry with hundreds of millions toward research. No one benefiting from that is interested in stopping that flow of money and it all would stop. Once you realize the economics of cancer you find that it is not just big pharm or insurance companies, but also government. There is population issues, SSI, medicare/medicaid and healthcare facilities. With that said, a cure could be a matter of National Security. I digress. In short, the US economics is partially based on and requires that people strategically be undereducated; work for someone else for the most of their life; get sick periodically and die before or shortly after they start collecting social security. Heart disease and Cancer followed by the unofficial third leading cause of death medical errors offers an alternative to mandatory human euthanization. There is a much much bigger picture. If this article angers you, then you don’t know the half of it.

The crazy, the stupid, the ignorance, it burns.

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One thought on “The heroes you don’t know.

  1. Matt says:

    I am a biologist. There are about 220 cell types in the human body and every one of these cell types can express cancer. If there is a cure for one type of cancer, for example pancreatic cancer, then there will be 219 more cures to be discovered for the other cell type cancers. The first cure is sure to come at some point in the future and this may lead to other cures. The cells of our body are so specific in their function and expression. For those who want more specific language, differential gene expression in determined cells affects the specific anomalies that cause cancer. The fact of the matter is that the only way to discover a cure for cancer is through science and technology. Have faith in our human abilities.

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