Cancer remains the second top cause of death, with an estimated 9.6 mil deaths in 2018.
All of us have crossed paths with cancer somehow; perhaps in an ordinary day conversation that went “Have you heard that X’s dad was diagnosed with fourth stage prostate cancer?”, perhaps in a hospital room saying “The doc said there is a high chance this treatment might work, we need to stay hopeful” with a forced smile on our face, or perhaps as the reason for silent longing as words wouldn’t possibly reach the recipient they are meant for anymore.
Cancer defines our lives from the moment we find out about the diagnosis – it is a war horn, trying to make its way to the top in the midst of a cacophony in our minds and hearts taken over with an immediate flush of fear, worry, anger, defeat. A sudden shove into the unknown waters.
We fell into the unknown waters with my Auntie Leyla’s diagnosis of acute myeloid leukaemia, at the age of 56, in February 2008. Our journey with ups and downs ended in the first days of January 2009, following multiple hospital visits, multiple cycles of highly intensive and toxic chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant that did not work. We farewelled her to the clouds, together with her dreams of aging in a summer house on the Aegean in Southern Turkey, her home country that she had been away from since the age of 30.
10 years later, in 2019, I got to work on a project on acute myeloid leukaemia, which turned out to be a fascinating and at times difficult experience. Seeing the amount of effort put into fighting this sneaky disease made me feel hopeful and inspired, and also appreciate the complexity of the task in hand. Today, acute myeloid leukaemia still has the worst prognosis amongst blood cancers, but thanks to the millions of scientists and healthcare workers around the world getting out of their beds every day to help define these unknown waters, new treatment options are emerging, following 40 years of research with no approved medications. A number of specific mutation targeting therapies roughly tripled life expectancy for the patients with those specific mutations. It is a slow and tough process, but research is the only way to increase the success.
While working on the project, I inevitably wondered how Auntie Leyla's story’s ending could have been different, if she was diagnosed today and not 10 years ago. Only if research could have moved faster, would she be living in the Aegean now?
To prevent more people from wondering like I do, I want to support cancer research through this small deed. For all cancer sufferers out there and for all those who have a close one fighting cancer. For better story endings.