Q: How can I help cure cancer? I'm not a scientist. I don't have special skills. What's the best thing I can do to help cure cancer?
A: Matt Harbowy: The vast majority of people who die from an otherwise survivable cancer die for reasons that you don't need to be a rocket scientist to solve.
- They run out of money. Most therapies are going to be expensive, because of the fine line between what a cancer cell is, and what a person is. Unlike diseases involving bacteria or viruses, cancer is typically genetically similar to the patient themself, which is why most drugs need to be just lethal enough to kill the cancer, and not kill the patient. Making sure a patient is exactly in that spot requires sophisticated medications, doctors able to identify the personal differences for each patient, and a gaggle of caregivers to make sure the patient lies just on the knife-edge balance. Even small things, like offering to cook meals or other things that give the patient freedom from having to spend money, can help. Giving money to a cancer charity, though (generally speaking and there are likely exceptions), does not. If you want to help, don't throw money at the problem, that just creates a network of people who are professional moneychangers. If giving money is all you can do, you're not thinking very hard about what is really needed.
- They run out of willpower. I have seen a friend of mine die from dehydration when the chemo had successfully reversed the cancer because he ran out of the will to live. Sometimes, patients want to have fun, and sometimes, patients just want someone to sit quietly with them. In most cases, this is a challenging time to be alive. Giving people what they need, so that they want to suffer what they will go through during treatment, is probably the number one (or two, money usually is a bigger barrier) reason why people die of cancer.
- They run out of therapies. If the patient overcomes 1 and 2, there's always a chance that the regimen chosen was the wrong one, or the progression of therapies aggravates or fails to treat the underlying cause because no one knows exactly what to do. Supporting people in their triage process, getting the right advice and right doctors and knowing what the difference is and when it matters, requires exceptional listening skills, considerable research, and a relaible social network more than it needs brainpower or lab skills or a science degree. A patient usually has limited bandwith to alter their social network in a way that puts them in touch with the right people- so even doing anything that helps them have a wider pool of friends willl increase their chances of survival. people who survive (or survive longet than average) tend to either make good choices (following exactly what the most knowledgable people suggest that they do) or have a good network of friends.
So if you want to help, by and large, the number one thing you can do is be a good friend to cancer patients. It's also probably the hardest thing you will ever do.