Just the talk of cancer is making a difference

Cancer has been the hot topic this week: From TV to the Internet, the news about Elizabeth Edwards and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow has resonated.

For Dr. Randy Hecht, an oncologist at the University of California, Los Angeles Jonsson Cancer Center, public attention has been positive for patients. “I think it has helped by bringing the spotlight onto their diseases. They’ve improved the public discourse, and I think they’ve probably saved lives.”

Those in the spotlight have long been influential: First lady Betty Ford,  newsman Peter Jennings and singer Sheryl Crow

According to a woman we spoke with from SHARE, a cancer hotline in New York City, this latest wave is especially comforting to people with Stage 4 cancer — like Cathy Hynes-Kadish, who was diagnosed seven years ago. 

“It’s finally out of the closet, it’s open,” says Hynes-Kadish. “People know about it. People didn’t deal with women who had metastatic cancer before. We’re kind of the forgotten women.”

It’s as though the nation’s comfort level about cancer has suddenly gone from hushed, quiet whispers to a very open and public conversation.

All this talk encouraged our colleague Anne Thompson to go public about her cancer

In response, hundreds have posted on our Web site and blog, writing things like “You are doing what I’ve chosen to do, live.”

“Everybody says, ‘Thank you, thank you for being brave,’” says Thompson. “I say ‘Why, I’m not brave. I did what anyone would do and that is you got a problem, you have to confront it and you got to get past it.’”

And so, just the talk of cancer is making a difference — encouraging survivors and opening a dialogue on how best, even with cancer, to live.