The Times West Virginian


June 8, 2014

COLUMN: Survival stories part of battle against cancer

I got an unsigned letter the other day.

I don’t typically respond to those kinds of letters. First, there’s no way really to address a response unless it’s an “open letter” format. Secondly, there’s a certain legitimacy that comes when you put your name at the bottom of a letter, even if it isn’t for publication. If you feel strongly about something, you’ll put your name on it.

But this letter made me sad.

It was someone asking us to stop running cancer survivor profiles in our paper. The author of the unsigned letter said their family had been destroyed by cancer, and just seeing the stories we ran in last week’s paper or knowing that they were there was devastating.

I’m not really big on drawing conclusions without having facts to back it up, but I assume that the author loved someone, and more importantly lost someone, to cancer. Their loved one couldn’t be featured as one of our survivors, whom we profile in the week leading up to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, because they didn’t survive.

Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It affects men, women, children, rich, poor, all races, all religions. It affects “good” people, the ones who give everything they have to help their fellow man, the ones who would give their last dollar to a worthy cause or clean out their own cupboards to feed the hungry.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the abnormal growth of cells — a two-pack-a-day smoker can be spared while the man who worked in a factory to feed his family and stayed tobacco free his whole life could die of lung cancer.

We make choices in our lives that may be the wrong ones — smoking, tanning, not eating enough of the right foods, using or being near certain chemicals. And sometimes just being born predisposes us to be susceptible to certain types of cancer.

Cancer sucks. I hate to be so blunt, but who could disagree with me?

I watched my own father battle through lung cancer and, he could be put in that “survivor” category. But I also saw my children’s grandfather battle colon cancer for years, succumbing to melanoma 14 years after the initial diagnosis, breaking their hearts in half. There was no difference in the level of care between them, no difference in love or support. One beat it, one died.

No rhyme. No reason. No compassion.

The biggest chance we have at battling cancer successfully is early detection. That can come from regular visits to a doctor, routine blood work, screenings for cervical and breast cancer, prostate exams and colonoscopies, just to name a few.

The stories of survival we share are part of the early detection process. A survivor talks about the symptoms that led them to a doctor or the routine screening that alerted them of the problem. If our readers see themselves in these stories and are encouraged to get screened or to check out symptoms after reading these stories, it was worth every printed word.

To the author of the unsigned letter, I’m sorry you lost a loved one to cancer. I hope that one day, there’s a shot or a pill someone can take to stop the abnormal growth of cells or to get rid of tumors all together. Until then, we have to stay vigilant and keep battling cancer as individuals and as a community.

Misty Poe is the managing editor of the Times West Virginian and can be reached by email at, by phone at 304-367-2523 or on Twitter @MistyPoeTWV.

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