Healing the Soul of the Survivor: 50-years of War
An open letter to the world about healing from cancer.
Dear World Wide Web:
18 years ago, a few months shy of my 18th birthday, I was diagnosed with stage IV testicular cancer and blood clots. I am forever indebted to: the scientists, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers and professionals that saved my life; President Richard Nixon who signed the National Cancer Act of 1971 into law 50 years ago today; advocates such as Mary Lasker; survivors who spoke about their illness in the face of criticism, such as John Wayne; the philanthropists, such as Jon Huntsman Sr; scientists—who continue necessary research today—such as Mauro Ferrari; and Non-Profit organizations, such as Friends of Cancer Research. I am especially grateful for the nurses. There is a myriad of others who have fought in the War on Cancer who deserve our respect and appreciation. I give my heartfelt condolences to those who lost loved ones to this horrific disease.
When I started heavy chemotherapy at the age of 17-years old followed by a complex Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection (RPLND) that left me with an 18 ½ inched scar, rib damage, and over 100 staples, I was completely unprepared for the physical and mental damage it caused me. One person helped me through it all: my nurse, Leigh Maple. Leigh wasn’t just a nurse; she was akin to a psychotherapist too. Nurse Leigh would calm my high anxiety during chemotherapy treatments. She thought of me outside of the weeks where I would spend ~8 hours being pumped with chemicals designed to destroy my cells. Nurse Leigh presented me with a cake in the chemo room on my 18th birthday. When I “graduated” from chemotherapy treatments I missed nurse Leigh and the emotional support she gave me as I anxiously awaited the gruesome surgery to follow. I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in the hospital that year recovering from my surgery.
I kept in contact with my nurse, and she attended my farewell speech when I left on a mandatory 2-year mission, not long after being in remission, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon church), my wedding, and a baby shower for my oldest daughter. In October I received a message that my nurse retired and was interviewed for an exhibit to be displayed by the Richard Nixon Foundation to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the War on Cancer. My nurse was featured in the exhibit along with my story about how I was told that having children would not be possible. The exhibit features a picture of my wife and our two beautiful daughters. The Universe only knows how grateful I am for the science of In vitro fertilization that made having children possible!
While amazed at the impact of bipartisan legislation, miraculous science, generous philanthropists, skilled doctors, and superhero nurses, I have written this open letter because I am fearful—fearful that history will repeat itself. The world is ill and in commotion regarding healthcare due to COVID-19 and its variants. While, as a nation, we accomplished so much with the investment signed into law by Richard Nixon, I believe we fell short in addressing survivorship. We fell short to use our vast wealth and resources in addressing mental health for cancer survivors and other minorities. On December 2nd, at the Nixon National Cancer Conference, I asked the brilliant panelists: what has and will be done in the next 50-years in the war on illness.
Peter Pisters, M.D., President of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, responded by stating:
[When] all of us went to medical school, mental health and physical health were dichotomized… [and now] mental health issues are being destigmatized… [mental health] is a part of normal life and that’s something that we have to help people understand. It’s especially acute in cancer patients who’ve gone through a life changing, life threatening experience and as we think about really reconfiguring survivorship, uh.. we are doing you a disservice by not focusing on the mental health challenges associated with survivorship. 1
Steven T. Rosen, M.D., Medical Oncologist and Hematologist; Provost and Chief Scientific Officer; Irell and Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair; Morgan & Helen Chu Director’s Chair of the Beckman Research Institute responded to the question by quoting the words at the gate of the City of Hope, which reads:
THERE IS NO PROFIT IN CURING THE BODY IF IN THE PROCESS WE DESTROY THE SOUL 2
It is my humble pleading that at the 100th-year anniversary of the War on Cancer that we can say with confidence—not only to cancer but to all illness—that we did all we could to bring peace to the soul. America, in my opinion, must use the vast resources we have amassed to strengthen trust in democracy, set aside divisive divisions, and come together to bring healing in this time of turmoil. I have ideas on how this can be done and I’m excited to share them with you.
1 “Nixon National Cancer Conference - Panelists and Keynote by Dr. Ned Sharpless.” Panelists: Nobel laureate James P. Allison, Ph.D., Nobel laureate David Baltimore, Ph.D., Nobel laureate Phillip Sharp, Ph.D., Andrew von Eschenbach, M.D., Former National Cancer Institute Director, Former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Stephan A. Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., Section Chief of the Cellular Therapy and Transplant Section at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO, Chair of the American Society of Clinical Oncology Board of Directors, Professor and Vice Provost for Academic and Faculty Affairs, University of Michigan, Peter Pisters, M.D., President of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Steven T. Rosen, M.D., Medical Oncologist and Hematologist; Provost and Chief Scientific Officer; Irell and Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair; Morgan & Helen Chu Director’s Chair of the Beckman Research Institute, Ned Sharpless, M.D., – Director of the National Cancer Institute, YouTube, 2 Dec. 2021, https://youtu.be/Ms9WpZEGzzA?t=7450.
2 Ibid., https://youtu.be/Ms9WpZEGzzA?t=7660
Below are links related to the Nixon National Cancer Conference:
- WhiteHouse.gov: President Richard M. Nixon
- Cancer.gov: National Cancer Act of 1971 — cancer.gov
- YouTube: Nixon National Cancer Conference - Panelists and Keynote by Dr. Ned Sharpless
- NixonFoundation.org: Nixon National Cancer Conference
- NPR.org: 50 years ago this week President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act
- LaskerFoundation: Mary Lasker
- JohnWayne.org — John Wayne Cancer Foundation
- Jon Huntsman Sr.: Four-time Cancer Survivor
- Friends of Cancer Research
- Mauro Ferrari: Nanoscientist
- Heng Huang: Machine Learning & Big Data