Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I'm no poster boy

There’s a risk for people who blog about their diseases to become poster children for those conditions. My intention when I started “The Ogler” back in April was to give friends and family an easy, unobtrusive way to keep track of my progression through treatment for malignant melanoma. Now that I’m past most of the “exciting” portion of my therapy, there’s less to write about. That’s obviously a good thing—for me, as well as for readers of this blog. There’s a happy correlation between the frequency of postings and the state of my health. I’ve resisted the temptation to bore everyone with the quality of my afternoon naps, and tried to limit my postings to more stimulating topics. I’ve done my best to not exaggerate the seriousness of my condition, while fairly representing its long-term threat. The Ogler is, after all, an objective journalist.

Other writers can’t always make the same claim. The portrayals of people with melanoma that appear in the media, and especially those used in the marketing of cancer facilities, badly skew the perception of what living with melanoma is like. When I read about someone who ran a marathon after being treated for melanoma, or who has been “cured” by a magnificent team of medical professionals, I want to know, “OK. So what was his or her staging? Where was their primary cancer, and lymph node dissection? What type of therapy did they receive, and for how long? Have they had a recurrence?” In other words, I don’t want a whitewash of the seriousness of advanced melanoma, if that’s the situation in which a patient finds himself. Anyone who has ever had a serious bout of cancer knows what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of BS out there that seems designed to give the “cancer establishment” more credit than it deserves.

People suffering from a mild form of melanoma are often used in the media to demonstrate how someone can live a full and productive life. That’s great for them, but most people with stage 3 or 4 disease live in far worse condition with lower levels of functionality. The poster children who the media typically write about simply don’t adequately reflect the severity of the disease for most people. Who wants to be depressed by a story that doesn’t have a happy ending? I’ve tried to avoid this trap. My life since last February would make for a lousy news story. By definition, there is no happy ending to be written since there isn’t a “cure” to be achieved. The longer I live without a recurrence of melanoma, the happier I will be. Meanwhile, I deal with the tiresome side-effects of interferon. That’s not the sort of story line that cancer centers are likely to pitch to the public. I’m no hero.

There’s so much more to this episode of my life than the medical details. That’s the miracle of it. I’m fortunate to have the time to closely observe what’s happening in my world, and to reflect back a little of that in written language. The reality of what happens in the life of someone with cancer is always more complex than can be captured in a simple story. You might want to keep that in mind the next time you read one of those “poster child” stories.


Zone Captain said...

Thanks for your insightful thoughts on the reality of the media/medical relationship. I hope that you write more about running and how it continues to bring joy to you. I am one of those people that didn't find much joy in running (except for the times I had to run because I was late for my scheduled boarding of a city bus at a particular stop - the joy part came when I actually got onto my bus, huffing and puffing)

Zone Captain said...

Happy Birthday Peter!

Anonymous said...

August 13! Been thinking of you through the day. Happy birthday to you Peter.