Dear Charles Hemenway, MD, phD & Shirley Pulawski (author of the Article New movie portrays teen cancer unrealistically, expert says),
My children and I have been eagerly waiting for The Fault in Our Stars, authored by John Green (#TFIOS) to hit the big screen next week. To watch the trailer of this movie click here. We have all read it. My first read was painful, I’ll admit. Throughout the entire book I found myself praying for these fictional characters to beat the odds and just pull through. Be the exception to the 46/7 rule. If you’re reading this and you are not aware of 46/7: each school day in America, 46 children are diagnosed with one form or another of pediatric cancer. FORTY SIX. That is the average of TWO plus elementary age classroom. EVERY.SINGLE. DAY. Every school day – 7 children will die. Is this a “scare” tactic? NO. It’s the truth. (If you are a detail person and really need to see my history with childhood cancer, please scroll to the very first blog post on this (my personal) blog. If it’s alarming to you, we hope that it propels you into ACTION. If you have never experienced childhood cancer in your family – how lucky you are. But know this, the day before their child received their cancer diagnosis – cancer parents were just like you. They did nothing wrong, This lottery doesn’t discriminate and all babies are entered into the lottery without your permission.
7 pairs of shoes that will be empty by the end of today.
First, let me dispel any of the following myths that non-supporters may form in their minds about myself and the purpose of this blog post. As you’ll see, I’ve gotten this before. I am well-equipped and well-versed with my reply.
MOST COMMON MYTH 1. I am not, repeat NOT – the mother of a cancer child. I am not “sick with grief over the death of my own child” (which therefore makes me emotional and not clearly able to process thoughts). Supporting evidence to prove this myth. 1. Both of my living children (yes, I did lose late term pregnancies; they did not have the chance to get childhood cancer) are indeed healthy and cancer free. Thank-you, Jesus! 2. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are some advocates out there who (no matter what the situation – childhood cancer, school nurse gone wrong, etc) that will do whatever it takes to ensure ALL children are safe, protected and have advocates. Of course any mother could go to prison for any violation of her own children; then there’s those like me – who could go for ANY child.
Now, before we begin specifically, here is another myth that I’ll dispel before your mind even goes there. MYTH: “This woman must be a physician-hater. I read somewhere she had a botched surgical procedure with life-long effects”. TRUTH: Although I did have a botched surgical procedure in 1996 and am the winner-winner-chicken-dinner of post ERCP chronic non-alcoholic pancreatitis, I have devoted the last 21 years of my professional career to the strategical implementation, marketing, build-out, launching and day to day Practice Administration of highly successful private medical practices of not only Family Practice – but also the specialities of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Interventional Pain Management, Endocrinology & Diabetes, Pulmonology & Dermatology. I am educated and well-versed in these specialties and all Federal and State Compliance Programs. It could be said, that I am one of the biggest advocates for the private practice Physician. It has been said, that I am tough to work for, but alas, numbers don’t lie and even with the slippery downward slope of medicine today, my practices bottom lines are thriving.
I am glad that has been cleared up so we can get to the heart (or the point) of this blog post. This morning, I read an article on helio.com titled “New movie portrays teen cancer unrealistically, expert says”. The expert was you, Dr. Hemenway. It has crossed my mind that perhaps Ms. Shirley Pulawski didn’t send you a draft of this article for your review prior to it’s launch. It could have happened that way, but you may review this and ask for a couple of addendums in the name of liability and all.
Dr. Hemenway, this article angered me. Not in a little way. In a BIG way. It began early in the third paragraph where you are quoted as stating that “outcomes for most pediatric cancers are much better than the movie portrays, and the types of cancer the teens experience are rare.” I absolutely can see how your background would lead to a jaded opinion such as this. But let’s tell the truth, shall we? Okay, since your work is in Hematology/Oncology research, I am going to make a laywoman’s assumption that you have vast experience in numbers pertaining to Leukemias and/or cancer of the blood. True? Okay. In fact, Doctor, the reason that the general population thinks that childhood cancer is not an epidemic problem today, is because professionals such as yourself continue to state that these cancers are “rare” and that the “overall cure rate” is 70%. You are wrong, sir. The only reason this number can even closely be somewhat this high is because all Leukemia’s are lumped into this number. Praise God, the success rate of primary Leukemia’s is HIGH. But, let’s back those out. Now – what is the cure rate of all other childhood cancers? NOT 70%. Can you see how this can be misleading? (Yes, for your field of study, this looks fantastic (& may even lend to continued research dollars) but your point was – the movie doesn’t paint a realistic picture.) The movie isn’t portraying Leukemia. Therefore, this movie can not portray rainbows and ponies and “most kids with cancer do very well, because that makes everyone feel better”. I challenge you to review – your numbers aren’t realistic overall either. Please, let’s be real.
Cancer is still the leading cause of death from disease among U.S. children over the ripe age of 1. Cancer kills MORE children than cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, AIDS, asthma and juvenile diabetes combined. In the United States in children from birth to age 19, more than 18,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed each year. While progress against childhood cancer has been made, cure rates for most pediatric cancers remain below 40% (not 70%)! This overall number is inflated when blood cancers are included. I’d also point out that NONE of the characters in TFIOS had the dx of Leukemia, therefore your comparison that childhood cancer cure rates are 70% would NOT have applied to the cancers these three teens had. I guess that makes this work of fiction closer to the truth than perhaps you thought?
For clarity: here are the reported most common forms of childhood cancer:
Leukemia (acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia) – 90% cure rate
CNS, brain, and spinal cord tumors (including Medulloblastomas, Glioblastomas, DIPG) – 30% cure rate
Lymphomas, (including Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma)
Skin cancer and melanomas