There is this ongoing deluge of warm and encouraging media coverage from Reuters to Newsweek to Yahoo Online. It is over the inspiring story, the miraculous story of the hugely successful TV gameshow Jeopardy and the travails of the programme’s host, Alex Trebek. This is one of those feel-good stories of a remarkable journey – indeed, struggle – with pancreatic cancer. It should give hope to those whose hopes have faded to the lowest of ebbs, bring comfort to those who wonder how bad did things get, and how worse it could not be.
All cancers are rough; it does not get any rougher than pancreatic cancer. It can be difficult to detect, takes a long time of probing and narrowing. All the while, the pain marches forward, intensifying by remorseless, relentless degrees. The very location of pancreatic cancer has posed a challenge to arrive at what usually is a horrifying diagnosis.
The related numbers are not helpful: they are grim. According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of 9%. For emphasis, that is a measly 9%. And this means that nine out of ten diagnosed and studied in a review ranging from 2008 to 2014 are now gone. Dead. According to the Pancreatic Cancer Society, the survival rate for this specific type of cancer is 3%. Whether 3% or 9% that does not – should not – translate to a death sentence.
For here is the story of the pancreatic cancer travels of Alex Trebek. He is nowhere to five years since his diagnosis. But that comes with a qualifier, an ominous one. Mr. Trebek was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Usually that means the end of the line is not too far off in the future. After several rounds of chemotherapy, the reports are that the tumours have shrunk by 50%. A miracle by itself, that is called; a lucky man that awes even the medical professionals.
No! Pancreatic cancer does not have to be a death sentence. Not stage 4 of that one. Nor of any other type of cancer (or disease) for that matter. The prognosis is that he should be near full remission after a few more rounds of chemotherapy. Medical marvels do happen, and now he should be able to join the ranks of survivors.
There are several messages, prayers, and pillars that emerge from a story like this one that involves a high-profile figure, a TV celebrity. There is sharp visibility to the tribulations of flesh and faith that can overwhelm, but do not; are not allowed to. There is a powerful muscularity to the vines of hope that cling in even the starkest of times and take to the distant remoteness of human existence; to that place rarely seen and felt in public, but which does exist.
Celebrity and prominence lend a commanding aura to the everyday challenges of those less fortunate, less ready to face the fires that flare with jarring suddenness along life’s pathways. Guyana’s own President Granger has had his rounds of treatment for cancer, too. His prognosis is also favourable. Illnesses do touch one and all, without regard for standing, for fame, for money.
And money is a severe and enfeebling problem for many Guyanese suffering from this dreaded disease. The cost of chemo, the type of drugs, the kind of access to the most advanced treatments, and all of the other associated charges that add and multiply way out of reach. Unlike Alex Trebek and David Granger, the regular, toiling citizen is limited to what, where, and how much he or she can touch, so as to be touched by the healings that just may be possible.
Where they, too, can be part of those uplifting words of “near complete remission” and some better, brighter percentage of beating the odds, of living for one more day and one more year. And who knows, many more than was believed before.
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