In the midst of the mournful hoopla that followed the death of Steve Jobs, an acquaintance of mine had had enough and pointed out the man made computers, for Pete’s sake. It’s not like he cured cancer. The suggestion here was that if Jobs had cured cancer, all the media coverage, blog posts and Facebook eulogies might have been warranted, but maybe we went overboard for the likes of a tech wizard.
I wonder. Let’s say Jobs had found the cure for cancer. Or let’s set him aside for the moment and say someone, anyone, were to once and for all develop a cure. Forget how we might mourn that person in death, and let’s ask how we might celebrate that person in life.
Despite all of our talk of terrorist threats, cancer is a more probable menace. Think—how many people do you know have been directly affected by terrorism to the extent their lives have been altered? Now, how many people do you know have been directly affected by cancer in some form? It’s our leveler, with no regard to age, race or financial status. It’s our domestic terrorist, our common Bogeyman.
It comes out from under the bed or from the darkest corner of the closet to rip us apart as surely as any IED, and we are often unarmed against it. We can lead the healthiest lives we are able yet still cannot dodge its blast when we are in its sights.
Heart disease is actually the leading cause of death in the U.S., but cancer comes in a close second killing more than 550,000 Americans a year. Lung cancer is responsible for a whopping 28.3 percent of those deaths, with colon cancer claiming 9.6 percent, breast cancer claiming 7.4 and on down the line with the other common forms.
We pour money into research, although we could do better. We study preventative measures, examine possible causes and experiment with more and more refined treatment options. Patients with certain forms of cancer benefit from more effective treatments, and their survival rates are increasing. But, we still have no definitive cure.
We look for heroes and latch on to public figures who embody at least some of what we value—ambition, great skill, success, insight, confidence, grace. Sometimes those heroes come in the form of athletes or world leaders, and sometimes they come in the form of innovators, an Edison figure for each generation. What we need is a hero in the form of a medical savior who eradicates our worst diseases.
So, let’s imagine that someone among us were to step forward and be our hero, and let’s imagine the hero’s welcome we would offer in response. We would hear the news—our Bogeyman has been slain—and from that moment on, the victor would set the bar for heroism and accomplishment. And our catch phrase, “It’s not like he cured cancer,” would have a whole new meaning.
We would embrace our hero, and we would give him a pedestal of laud and honor, and not just upon his death. Show us someone who can cure cancer, satisfying more than our catch phrase, and we’ll respond with more news coverage, talk-show interviews, blog tributes and Facebook posts than you can imagine. We’ll mark future calendars by his accomplishment, and every future hero figure would be expected to measure up. “Yes, but did you cure cancer?” we’ll ask of their successes.
Granted, our attention span seems no longer than your average news cycle, and concentrated interest in our hero would come and go as the spotlight pendulum sways, but we would be forever mindful and grateful.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it seems the whole world has gone pink. But I am keenly aware that cancer affects both genders and plays no favorites with anatomy. Pink or blue, our entire population needs a hero—a Bogeyman slayer—or a team of them if need be. We’ll pay you back with such a parade of admiration and a ticker-tape showering of credit due, and we won’t wait until your funeral to do it. We promise.