Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sad, sad news: Dana Reeve dies

This extremely sad news greeted me when I went to Yahoo to check my email today: "Christopher Reeve's Widow Dies at Age 44."

I can't say I followed the entire saga of the Reeve family all that closely, but I certainly knew the basic facts, and I knew that Dana Reeve was diagnosed with lung cancer not that long after her husband's death, and that they had a young child. When I read the news today of her death, my first thought was of him and how much profound tragedy he's had to deal with already in his young life.

Yes, his parents loved him, and yes, they gave him an example of extraordinary courage in their all-too-shortened lives. I'm sure there are relatives who will take him in, and his mother certainly had a lot of time to plan for that and to prepare him as best she could.

But something like this cannot be prepared for, not really.

I know there are worse tragedies on the face of the earth than this, but this one is bad enough. Having watched the family over the years, and admired the classy bravery of this woman, it made my stomach sink when I read the news.

On another note, notice the article's repeated insistence on the fact that Dana was not a smoker, despite her lung cancer. This seemed important to the writer to state, and I suppose it is.

But I sense a certain subtle subtext here: the notion that we might somehow control our health if we just do it right, if we follow all the rules. There's a certain smugness, and a whistling in the dark--because of course, as in the old clich├ęs, no one gets out of here alive, and shit happens. Do only the good die young? No, of course not. But we certainly notice it when they do.

And we like to think we have more control over things than is the case. Yes, indeed, smoking is a huge cause of lung cancer, and I applaud everyone who manages to quit and discourage anyone from starting. But it's not easy for lifelong smokers to stop, not at all.

I have perhaps a special interest in this story because I have a female relative who is currently fighting lung cancer, a woman in her fifties who smoked a long time ago and quit a long time ago, with only the occasional cigarette in recent decades. What category does she fall into: smoker, nonsmoker, hybrid? I refuse to condemn her in any way, or blame her. I simply offer her my love, my prayers, my support, and my hope that she licks this thing.


At 2:44 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Goesh said...

Her spirit and determination, along with her husband's spirit and determination,greatly facilitated advances in rehabilitative medicine - awareness, committment, the will to overcome, all of it figures into what they contributed for the betterment of mankind. They are gone but their spirit endures.

At 3:27 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Joan said...

You're right about that illusion of control, and how judgemental some people can be when they hear of others' illnesses. We've made so many advances in medicine that some people believe we've got it all figured out, when that's far from the truth.

My heart goes out to the Reeves' children. They have suffered tremendously, and I hope they will find themselves in a safe, comforting home.

At 3:40 PM, March 07, 2006, Anonymous Ray said...

Slightly off topic, but the fact of the matter is that nobody knows the cause of cancer. The etiology is unknown. Admittedly, there is a statistical association between smoking and lung cancer. However a statistical association does not prove causality as the doctors seem to believe. A statistic is not a proof of anything, but simply an answer to a question.

At 4:04 PM, March 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"On another note, notice the article's repeated insistence on the fact that Dana was not a smoker, despite her lung cancer. This seemed important to the writer to state, and I suppose it is."

When I have posted the death of someone on a website before I've gotten the same sort of response. In fact, I got a similar response to a post I made about Dana Reeve. The writer said I should make a point of mentioning she never smoked a day in her life, as if I had to defend her, in a sense, because she died of lung cancer. It reminds me of the AIDS thing - you can't mention someone died of AIDS without defending their honor, so to speak, by giving the whole story if they got it from a blood transfusion.

Number one, if she died from cancer she died from cancer. That's just a fact. And number two, I have no idea why she got it or what she did or didn't do to get it, if anything. That's speculation.

At 4:43 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Megan said...

The good die...period. My father died of Colon cancer when he was 36 years old. And no, he didn't smoke or drink excessively or have any particular bad habits (that I'm aware of...I was only 8 when he died).

These things happen and sometimes it doesn't matter WHAT we do...God has decided our time has come. A coworker just got an e-mail yesterday that a former teacher of hers was killed - hit by a car as he stepped off the sidewalk. Heck, I joke all the time about 'if it's my time to go I'll be hit by a bus in the crosswalk'. You just can't prepare for these things.

I too was very sad to hear about Dana Reed...and mostly because I was sad for her child. Having one parent die is hard enough, but having two I cannot imagine. I'm thankful my mother was a great single mom who raised me right (well, she tried to raise me left but that's her only failure LOL).

At 4:53 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

However a statistical association does not prove causality as the doctors seem to believe. A statistic is not a proof of anything, but simply an answer to a question.

This is correct, in a very limited sense. It is well known that there is a positive correlation -- especially as you get older -- between lung cancer and other cancers and all kinds of respiratory ailments and tobacco use. That makes tobacco use a "risk factor". (I say this as a smoker, I'm not trying to get off the hook here.) But it is also true that the actual dynamic of cancers is not well understood. It is believed that there is a large genetic component; that is, some people's genetic makeup is more predisposed to response to irritations by developing cancers, and others, not. However, for the layperson, "smoking causes cancer" is good enough.

It always disturbs me when people die young, and especially when they die of cancer and weren't "guilty" of smoking. A month or so ago Lou Rawls, a favorite R & B singer from the '60's, passed on, he was 70, and also of lung cancer. In his obituaries, it said that he stopped smoking 35 years ago ....

One of the effects of the health jihad ever since the '60's is that people are made to feel that their deaths are somehow "their fault", as though everyone will live until they are 80, and if they don't, they have no one to blame but themselves. I'm afraid it doesn't work that way, and, anyway, to be frank, I'd rather punch out fast that have a long lingering illness at a great age or God forbid suffer dementia a la Reagan (free shot for accusations that I am already suffering dementia.)

The problem with smoking is twofold. I enjoy it, but actually only about a handful a day I really enjoy. The other problem however is that it wears at your health in all kinds of ways, as you notice when you get into your fifties, and that's bad enough, even without cancer.

At 5:45 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Alex said...

Ray wrote:

However a statistical association does not prove causality as the doctors seem to believe. A statistic is not a proof of anything, but simply an answer to a question.

You are completely right that a statistical association (a "correlation") does not prove causality. However, in the case of smoking and cancer people have demonstrated a much stronger relationship than just correlation.

Scientists studying smoking and cancer have conducted randomized controlled experiments to establish causation. In such experiments you would divide the subjects randomly into two groups, and give cigarettes to one and not the other for a number of years. Then you would follow the people over time to see if there was a difference in their cancer rates. By using random assignment and a large subject pool you ensure that whatever unknown non-smoking-related factors that might predispose people to cancer would be evenly distributed across the treatment and non-treatment groups. This allows you to isolate the effect of smoking itself. Observational studies don't allow this and so can establish at best correlation, but randomized trials really do have a claim to establish causation.

Here is a account of the situation vis-a-vis smoking and cancer. The observational studies I mentioned are what they refer to as "case-control studies" and the randomized trials are here called "double-blind", which is a randomized trial in which during the trial neither the subject nor the experimenter knows whether the subject is receiving the treatment or the placebo:

The great triumph of the case-control study was probably the establishment of a link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer, by Sir Richard Doll and others. Using this technique, Doll was able to show a statistically significant association between the two. Skeptics, largely backed by the tobacco industry, argued (correctly) for many years that this type of study cannot prove causation, but the eventual results of double-blind prospective studies confirmed the causal link which the case-control studies suggested, and it is now accepted that tobacco smoking greatly raises the risk of lung cancer.

At 6:12 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

As far as I know, cancer is when your body starts making cells that don't quite work, yet don't actually die off. So, in time, your cancerous cells replace your non-cancerous cell, and you die.

As for what causes it, it is only logical to focus on the DNA and RNA reproduction system that cells use to reproduce themselves. My basic understanding of the biology is simply that if any wires are crossed in the process, then the cell doesn't turn out fully functional, because the DNA somehow got switched. And because your cells still carry the proteins that your body recognizes, your immune system does not kill off the cancerous cells.

For humans, we make sure to inspect things made by the factory before we ship them out. It would be even more important to do so if the products we made actually reproduced themselves automatically. You really don't want to make an auto-factory that is made for building robots, and then realize 50 years later that it was making the robots with a self-destruct mechanism all that time that would trigger in 50.1 years.

You got to check these things and stop them when they first start. Our body wasn't designed to fight cancer however.

If there was a drug that we could use to specifically target cancerous cells and make them recognizable by the body as foreign invaders, preferable kind of RNA virus or bacteria, then that would cure most types of cancer. I'm not sure about the specialty versions they have.

Then there is nano-technology. If you can't get the body to get rid of the cancerous cells, because the cancerous cells are indistinguishable from healthy cells (sort of like the problem with chemo really), then all you are left with is repairing the cells on an individual basis. And nano-technology is the only thing capable of doing so.

That, and the ability to actually reinforce the DNA strand and memory in cells, would allow a decrease in aging and the ability to repair perhaps genetic diseases as well as common diseases, including cancer.

Smoking produces carcinogens from what I remember. Which tend to cause more damage to the cells. This in the end, means the cells have a higher rate of reproduction amid an environment of very very nasty stuff. So there is of course a higher chance of something going wrong. Like there is a higher chance that if you pour salt in your car, your engine might be damaged.

Not only that, but the higher rate of cells dying means there are more chances that your new regenerated cells will come out wrong, regardless of the mutation aspects.

Like radioactivity, anything that kills cells is bad, like UV radiation.

Depending upon your natural genetic ability to regenerate (as in, look younger than you are, or some such), you may be at less or more risk of cancer.

Anti-Oxidants are a good preventive of cellular damage and what was it, mitosis?

Bad mitosis anyway. Anti-oxidants help keep cells repairing themselves in normal order, which is always a good thing.

Hopefully in 50 years we can replace anti-oxidants as a preventive, for nano-technology which would be the cure.

At 7:46 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger gatorbait said...

Eat right , exercise regularly, die anyway.

No one gets out alive.

At 7:47 PM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

>>If there was a drug that we could use to specifically target cancerous cells and make them recognizable by the body as foreign invaders, preferable kind of RNA virus or bacteria, then that would cure most types of cancer. <<

I have sometimes heard that people who have allergies are less prone to some cancers, I wonder if that has anything to do with this, inasmuch as allergic reactions are basically over-reactions to foreign invaders.

In my case, I had chronic asthma from the age of 5 onwards, and also very bad allergies, until I started smoking. I can't figure it out. Except I try to smoke as little as possible these days.

At 2:33 AM, March 08, 2006, Anonymous douglas said...

Steve- "...health jihad..."
Heh- good one.
sometimes life isn't fair. You're Dana Reeve, and first your husband has a tragic accident and is paralyzed then dies early from complications of his condition, then you die of lung cancer at 44. You're Kirby Puckett, and even though you're a hall of fame, world champion baseball player beloved by all, you develop glaucoma and have to retire early, then die at 45 of a massive stroke. Bottom line- live life like it means something TODAY. Live well, exercise, eat right, but also, enjoy foods that aren't healthy, have a good cigar once in a while. LIVE. I also believe that an addiction is an addiction- some better than others, but all have some negative- even addiction to exercise...
Disclaimer- I am not an addictive personality- I could smoke a pack of cigarettes today, and enjoy it, and not smoke a cigarette for years without a second thought. I always wonder about those who say with conviction 'nicotine is as addictive as heroin'. I belive that is only true, if at all, for some, certainly not all.

At 2:36 AM, March 08, 2006, Anonymous douglas said...

and perhaps most importantly, touch lives in a positive way- like Mrs. Reeves and Mr. Puckett apparently did.

At 7:48 AM, March 08, 2006, Blogger Goesh said...

-and speaking of advocacy and in getting totally off subject, check out Wafa Sultan, the Arab-American psychologist and that video on her. She gets on al-jazeera and really lays it on a cleric. It was remarkable to hear and hopefully many have already seen the clip.

At 10:52 AM, March 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an oncologist now retired, I will limit myself to a few responses to neo-neocon's admirable (as usual) post and the responses.
There is the judgment of culpability, that smokers somehow deserve their cancers, held by even those elitists who suck on cigars.
There are many in health care who wish, like Ymarsakr, to die suddenly. But that implies without warning, no making goodbyes or arranging as best one can for those left behind. The Reeves leave a 13 year old son, and I strongly believe Dana worked and planned as a loving parent for his transition.
Finally, after 30-some years of dealing with cancers, diseases I hate as much as I hate Islamofascists, I am left with the rationalization that God is not a micromanager; it cannot be his will for a terrific human to die miserably. I cannot forget a dying 6 year old comforting her desperate mother.
I can comfortably accept into my belief system a version of Intelligent Design, that God created the universe and the means for us as a component thereof to perhaps make parts of it out.

At 5:30 PM, March 08, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I don't know how someone can get, "Ymar wants people to die suddenly" from what I wrote.

But everyone's brain must work differently.

And I'm not in health care, btw, just to be clear. I take care of my own health through calisthenics and balancing my intake of essential vitamins and minerals, but I tend to avoid other people's health problems.

At 8:03 PM, March 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ymar: Sorry re misattribution. It was Steve.

At 10:40 PM, March 08, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

All right, thanks for the correction.

At 5:25 PM, March 16, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...


Anti-cancer nanoprobes.

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