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Advocacy Fighting Cancer and Terrorism - Our Fight is Similar
by Karl Schwartz
Cancer patients and caregivers know first-hand that life-threatening enemies cannot be ignored.  I cannot speak for all, but I strongly support our nation in it's goal of identifying and eliminating the people behind the unspeakable acts of 9-11.  It is obvious that reasoning and diplomacy is not always enough, and that our great nation must focus on this considerable challenge.

We have been advised to try and return to normal life so that the terrorists do not succeed in their goal to disrupt our way of life. But normal life for cancer victims is the continuous fight for survival, and this fight appears to have much in common with our new war against terrorists.

First, the sickness and unreality we feel at diagnosis is very much like the experience of Americans  on September 11 and it's aftermath. The enemy is also similar. It comes from ourselves and is somehow twisted (mutated) to become something that betrays us—that seeks our death. Just as every siren post 9-11 evokes renewed fear of assault and senseless violence; every new feeling and symptom carries with it a fear that the cancer is back or growing.

There is no reasoning with this enemy although it’s theoretically possible to do so, just as it’s possible to induce cancer cells to differentiate to normal cells—but this change over is rare and not curative. We understand that humanity is a body that requires cooperation and rules of conduct. We know that cancer cells have lost this connection—that they have lost the rules that govern normal function and service to the body.

The remedies for cancer and terrorism have much in common. We can bomb the terrorists and the people who live there and thereby apply a kind of chemotherapy. We may or may not provide nutrition and protection to the residents of cities who are in harm’s way. We have "smart" bombs that are not always so smart that resemble radiolabeled antibodies—that carry radiation to specific cells.  We might try to cut off the supply of funds to terrorists just as antiangiogenic treatments can sometimes stop the blood supply to tumors.  New immunotherapies against cancer seek to "educate" the immune cells so that they can identify and attack cancer cells.  This remedy is identical to the goal of our police and intelligence agencies in regard to terrorists who live in our communities.  Finally, it is a combination of approaches that provides the best hope for success.  Cancer and terrorist cells will certainly adapt to treatments that are not vigorous and coordinated.

Terrorism seems to grow from an impoverished soil where revenge takes root. It also grows from isolation, which sees non-self as non-human. Here the similarity with cancer does not fit as well, but there are reasonable connections. Just as it’s estimated that dietary and environmental changes can prevent two-thirds of cancer, we can reduce terrorism by creating a healthier social and economic environment that promotes understanding and communication with all people in all parts of the world. Without justifying the despicable acts we have witnessed and experienced, we can try to recognize that we are not perfect and try our best to respect and communicate better with different cultures of the world.

Much of what seemed important on September 11 has lost its meaning. But this is not true of our fight against cancer. As described here, we can see that our fight is primordial and centered in existence and humanity. Indeed, we are a casualty of terrorism because, understandably, resources may well be diverted away from cancer research to the war against terrorism. However, we should not be ashamed to ask for help and resources during this time. Our fight and the consequences of our fight are also important. Perhaps this experience will awaken more Americans to what’s truly essential. Perhaps it will help the public to better connect to the war we experience daily—the scourge of cancer that kills more than 500,000 individuals each year in America.

-Karl Schwartz

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