Cancer is the new HIV

Cancer has had all possible naming, varying from spiritual causes to a ‘disease of the rich’./Net photo

The toll of non-communicable/chronic diseases is frighteningly increasing in the world, and more so in developing countries. Similar to other infectious, blood or airborne diseases, the capacity to fight and preparedness to face epidemics tells much about a country and its health system.

I grew up in the times when a diagnosis of HIV/AIDs was a stigma. Pictures of the little South African born Johnson making public and global appearances gave not only a sad but death sentence image. People my generation would concur how hard it was to drill out the idea that playing, working or interacting with an HIV infected person would not pose any threat to their life. Funds were mobilised, anti-viral medications’ prices dropped down and people became aware of the virus, and little by little, the stigma was tamed down.

Despite the fact that HIV vaccines testing efforts have not yielded much yet, the world is fairly knowledgeable about the virus. Prevention methods, from every possible corner have been improved over the years, and things are moving in the right direction. HIV physicians can now boast that patients can actually die from any other natural cause, and not the disease, owing to the tremendous development and regards given to the pandemic.

Cancer, on the other hand, has had all possible naming, varying from spiritual causes to a disease of the rich. But as far as one can remember, cancer has been a farfetched idea in the patients’ minds, and evoking its possibility causes tangible anxiety.

In the few years I have spent in the cancer community, I have witnessed numerous success stories of total cure. Balancing it with the depressing deaths that occur at this time would be heresy, but to the many questions asking if cancer can be healed, the answer is positive. This needs not only knowledge that cancer needs to be known early for chances of cure, but as well, knowing that some prevention exists and can be used effectively.

Encouraging initiatives are already in place — cancer of the uterine cervix has a vaccine that is given freely to teen girls in Rwanda. Expanding to more initiatives would mean screening schemes for other malignancies, and making the general population aware of what cancer is and the chances of cure.

In the multifaceted aspect of cancer, however, remains one part that is rarely tackled — representing the other bank bridged by cancer treatment. Survival, with all that it entails, like potential disease recurrence and treatment, can be a source of worry to patients and family. Unheard scenarios of broken marriages, fear of future reproductive potential, broadening to workplace and school stigma, are common to many patients. It is extremely important on one side to take a cancer survivor as an individual with full potential, and that the toxicities can be managed, like other diseases, and lived with.

We will get there. The waves of a new unknown disease, decimating and causing restlessness to patients and families alike, with the untapped financial burden that it causes has been seen and got around with success. HIV rates are dropping and quality of lives improving. The same will happen with cancer, but will require extensive awareness work, compassionate yet effective communication from the healthcare professionals and multi-sectorial partnerships.