Sunday, March 27, 2011

Geraldine Ferraro's 12-Year Benchmark

With the death of Geraldine Ferraro, multiple myeloma claimed its most prominent American victim in recent memory -- perhaps ever. Huong asked me whether I was bothered by this. I suppose she guessed that I might consider it to be an unwelcome harbinger of some kind. Anyway, the answer is "No", and not because I'm an insensitive lout (although that could be another reason).

When Ms. Ferraro was first diagnosed, in the late 1990's, her chances of surviving five years were deemed to be slim; her chances of surviving ten years were, for all intents and purposes, nil. In the event, she managed to hopscotch past the Devil for even longer than that, on the backs of powerful new therapies that became available in the intervening years.

Short of a cure -- and curing myeloma would require the kind of breakthroughs that merit Nobel prizes -- the goal of clinical oncologists today is to render this disease as manageable as, say, Type II diabetes. The gallows humor version of this says that "success" is lodged in making the patient survive long enough to be killed by something else. That remains a goal, as Ms. Ferraro's demise makes clear, but there is every reason to believe that I will be able to live a relatively normal life for many years to come, by shifting from one therapeutic regime to another over time, following her example. Yes, I will likely have to battle undesirable side effects. There will be uncomfortable moments when Plan N is found to be no longer working, and Plan N+1 has not yet succeeded in replacing it in a stable manner. I may eventually have to resort to something previously untried. But on the whole, it would really be a little surprising, to me, if I cannot do better than Geraldine Ferraro's 12 years before I'm done, since I should have access to options not yet conceived in her time.

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