In Praise of Hope

In Praise of Hope

Reading the headlines in the morning newspaper lately can downright depressing. After all, this is supposed to be a holiday season, a time of celebration—not one of a continuing cacophony of conflict at every level.

It was with that feeling that I recalled three conversations I had recently with people who have various cancers. And I realized that despite all the chaos around us, maybe it’s time to say something in praise of hope.

Hope is very real, especially when you or a loved one or someone you know is diagnosed and treated for cancer. Hope is that to which we cling to get us through the difficult days and weeks. Hope is what keeps us looking forward, hope is what we pray for.

We know hope itself cannot change the physical world. It can’t create success. If it could, no patient would ever succumb to this dread disease. However, for the three folks I spoke to, there are very real reasons to be hopeful.

One was a person who had previously been treated for cancer, and now had a new and different cancer detected. Biopsies of the tumor did not result in a diagnosis beyond an undifferentiated cancer. What treatment to offer was uncertain. The outlook was grim. Then a consulting physician suggested doing a genetic analysis of the biopsy, and lo and behold: a genetic “signature” was found that is strongly associated with another very rare type of cancer. A type of cancer that is treatable. Treatment was adjusted, the cancer is responding. Hope.

Another conversation was with someone seeking counsel to resolve conflicting treatment recommendations about their cancer. As we wrapped up our chat, I asked about their family. Turns out their spouse had a GIST tumor diagnosed in the early in the 2000’s. GIST is another rare cancer that used to be almost universally fatal.

Following surgery, they were placed on imatinib (Gleevec), a drug that had been recently approved for the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia and was also found to be effective in the treatment of GIST tumors. We had no clue back then whether it would be effective in keeping the cancer at bay after surgery. They remain on imatinib to this day, doing well and tolerating the drug. Once again, hope.

The third “conversation” was an email from a lung cancer survivor and personal friend who almost five years ago had widespread metastatic disease, including in the brain. Included in the email was a recent magazine article about her and other lung cancer survivors. At the time she was diagnosed she had a genomic test done (not a common procedure at the time) and the cancer was found to have a rare lung cancer mutation called ROS1. She started on an experimental drug (which is now approved for more widespread use), and remains alive, well, and expecting her first grandchild in March (a doting grandmother to be sure, as early signs suggest). Again, hope.

So let’s share a moment during this holiday season and take a break from all the blaring bad news, and praise hope. For these three and so many more, there is so much more hope than we had in the past. Let us never forget that hope is all around us. As I learned from my own experience, we should not forget to seek it.


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J. Leonard Lichtenfeld's Biography

Dr. Len

J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, MACP: Dr. Lichtenfeld currently serves as Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the American Cancer Society in the Society's Office of the Chief Medical Officer located at the Society's Corporate Center in Atlanta. Dr. Lichtenfeld joined the Society in 2001 as a medical editor, and in 2002 assumed responsibility for managing the Society's then newly created Cancer Control Science Department which included the prevention and early detection of cancer, emerging cancer science and trends, health equity, quality of life for cancer patients, the science of cancer communications and the role of nutrition and physical activity in cancer prevention and cancer care.  In 2014, Dr. Lichtenfeld assumed his current role in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer where he provides extensive support to a number of Society colleagues and activities. As a result of his over four decades of experience in cancer care, Dr. Lichtenfeld is frequently quoted in the print and electronic media regarding the Society's positions on a number of important issues related to cancer. He has testified regularly in legislative and regulatory hearings, and participated on numerous panels regarding cancer care, research, advocacy and related topics. He has served on a number of advisory committees and boards for organizations that collaborate with the Society to reduce the burden of cancer nationally and worldwide. He is well known for his blog (www.cancer.org/drlen) which first appeared in 2005 and which continues to address many topics related to cancer research and treatment. A board certified medical oncologist and internist who was a practicing physician for over 19 years, Dr. Lichtenfeld has long been engaged in health care policy on a local, state, and national level.  He is active in several state and national medical organizations and has a long-standing interest in professional legislative and regulatory issues related to health care including physician payment, medical care delivery systems, and health information technology. Dr. Lichtenfeld is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann Medical College (now Drexel University College of Medicine) in Philadelphia.  His postgraduate training was at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the National Cancer Institute in Baltimore. He is a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, the national honor medical society.  Dr. Lichtenfeld has received several awards in recognition of his efforts on behalf of his colleagues and his professional activities.  He has been designated a Master of the American College of Physicians in acknowledgement of his contributions to internal medicine.  Dr. Lichtenfeld is married, and resides in Atlanta and Thomasville, Georgia.

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