Why is Cancer different?

My own reaction and that of others, when learning of my cancer diagnosis, was distinctly different from other serious diagnoses that I have received. I was diagnosed with HIV when it was a true death sentence and HIV turned to full blown AIDS at a time when life saving therapies were promising, but relatively new. Arguably a diagnosis of hepatitis C- especially after failing on treatment is very serious. But Cancer- it seems fraught with fear and loathing.

We’ve come a long way since the time that cancer wasn’t spoken about and there were true fears about it. Those fears were not dissimilar to those that many had, and some still do, about AIDS. But cancer still evokes a visceral reaction- fear, panic, pity, and compassion in ways that other diseases don’t seem to. I don’t want pity and I have little fear; I’ve been through too much tobe too afraid.

What is it about cancer? It has probably touched virtually every household in the nation. It has been with us since the beginning of human society- and longer I am sure. The word cancer came from the father of medicine, Hippocrates, a Greek physician. Hippocrates used the Greek words, carcinos and carcinoma to describe tumors, thus calling cancer “karkinos.” The Greek terms actually were words to describe a crab, which Hippocrates thought a tumor resembled. Although Hippocrates may have named “Cancer,” he was certainly not the first to discover the disease. The history of cancer actually begins much earlier. The world’s oldest documented case of cancer hails from ancient Egypt, in 1500 BCE.

So cancer is embedded in our psyche. It is the ultimate boogie man and it is, in a very real way, man’s natural predator.

I don’t plan on treating my diagnosis of cancer differently than my diagnosis with AIDS or my diagnosis of hepatitis C. But it is different- because it is part of human history. But because it has been around forever doesn’t give it more power; or it shouldn’t. We give it that power if we choose to. I for one, choose not to give it that power.


About Randy Allgaier

Randy Allgaier is an un-abashed liberal who is more policy focused in his views than politically focused. He has been working in community organizing since 1992, non-profit administration since 1994 and in 1995 he became the Director of the HIV Advocacy Network in the Public Policy Department at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. While at SFAF, Randy was a national leader in the arena of AIDS community organizing. In 1997, he was one of the primary architects of developing a statewide coalition that vigorously advocated for increased state funding for California's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). This effort led to the first significant increase in state funding for ADAP and paved the road for further substantial funding increases during subsequent years. Currently, California's ADAP program is one of the most comprehensive in the country and is a model for other states in terms of eligibility, drug formulary, and program access. Randy served as the Interim Executive Director of the California Alliance for Pride and Equality (CAPE) - now named Equality California- Califiornia's lesbian/ gay/ bisexual/ transgender state level advocacy organization from September 1998 through April 1999. He is one of the organization's original founders and he developed its mission statement and played a primary role in both developing its structure and nurturing its initial development. In September 2002, Randy was appointed by San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to the HIV Health Services Planning Council of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties where he has co-chaired the People Living With HIV/AIDS Advisory Committee, the Grantee Assessment Task Force and the Evaluation Committee. In September 2004, Randy was re-appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom to the Council and was subsequently elected Co-Chair of the Planning Council for 2004-05 and was re-elected Co-Chair for 2005-06. In March 2003, Mayor Brown named Randy as the Mayor's interim representative to the Communities Advocating Emergency AIDS Relief (CAEAR) Coalition. The CAEAR Coalition is a leading voice in Washington DC for HIV/AIDS care and treatment and has led successful annual appropriations advocacy for Ryan White CARE Act Titles I and III. Randy was a member of CAEAR's Reauthorization Work Group which was charged with developing the coalition's position paper on the 2005 Reauthorization of the Ryan White CARE Act and he was responsible for the coalition's position on the issue of the legislation's coordination of HIV/AIDS federal programs and funding. In 2004 Randy co-chaired the Integrated Service Model Advisory Work Group for the HIV Health Services Branch in the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The purpose of the work group was to develop a set of written recommendations that advise the HIV Health Services Planning Council and the SFDPH HIV Health Services on issues related to the development of Integrated Service Models (ISM) in the community and on DPH's ISM solicitation. The Advisory Group successfully crafted a plan that has been approved and will allocate $6.4 million to develop a network of Centers of Excellence to serve severe need populations living with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco that will be implemented in 2005 and 2006. Beginning in 2002, Randy began working on Medicare issues for people living with HIV/AIDS. He was one of the first HIV/AIDS policy advocates in the nation to work on this issue and wrote the first comprehensive paper on the subject for the National Association of People with AIDS and funded by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Randy continued his Medicare advocacy work through the final development of the Medicare and Modernization Act of 2003 and subsequently conducted briefings and trainings nationally on the implementation of Medicare Part D under a grant from Gilead Sciences. Randy has served on a number of non-profit boards including Shanti (1994-1996)- where he chaired the Fund Development Committee and sat on the Strategic Planning and Executive Committees; the Human Rights Campaign where he served as Western Region Co-Chair and sat on the Strategic Planning and Executive Committees. From 2000 - 2004 Randy served as the President of the Board of Pets Are Wonderful Support where he helped lead the organization through a substantial period of growth and transition.
This entry was posted in AIDS, Anal Cancer, Cancer Blogs, HIV/AIDS, Living with AIDS. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Why is Cancer different?

  1. Pingback: Why is Cancer different? « The Alligator

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