Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic“He has colon cancer.We’ll schedule an emergency surgery immediately”June 4，2012.I was still too sedated to be able to open my eyes following a colonoscopy to “rule out cancer”– but I could hear.An audio-only moment that will be seared in my memory for the rest of my life.
Me have cancer？At age 40？I was in good overall health，ate reasonably well，exercised，was a healthy weight，a non-smoker and ironically a scientist who designed new oncology drugs.Yes，there was a history of colon cancer in my family – but all of them were diagnosed in their 60’s.Ironically，to be “extra safe”，I planned to have my first colonoscopy at age 40.At age 40，I was already metastatic.
After a recurrence showing that my cancer is chemo-resistant and unable to be cured surgically，thus began my “adventures in living terminally optimistic”.How did I approach my diagnosis？I think like most people – with a sense of overwhelming panic and dread.Staring death in the face，especially as a young person，causes that to happen.As I wept in my wife’s arms，being someone who had both been an end of life caregiver to my Mother as she succumbed to pancreatic cancer and an oncology researcher all I could say was “I’m afraid of very few things in life.Just about the only thing I have ever feared was cancer.”After that，I could not speak any more.
But then something happened.I looked at my two little girls and realized I had so much to live for.The oncology scientist in me also began to take control.When I regained my composure，I decided.“OK，this is a scientific problem.I am a scientist ＆ science is always advancing.I will not assume I can’t beat this.”At that point I began to approach my cancer as the greatest scientific research project of my life.That was now over 3 years ago.I am even more terminally optimistic now than I was upon diagnosis！
I have been an oncology researcher for more than 20 years.I can honestly say there has never been as much true excitement amongst oncology scientists ever about the incredible pace of new ＆ exciting cancer drug breakthroughs as right now.These breakthroughs range from improved targeted therapies，to novel treatment methods such as viral and cellular therapies，to the truly groundbreaking ＆ paradigm shifting checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapies！This is not hype.Now that immunotherapies have recently been showing significant clinical activity in multiple advanced cancers，the entire field of oncology drug discovery has been transformed.The required technology ＆ scientific pieces are starting to come together with the new goal to cure significant numbers of children and adults with advanced stage cancer，instead of the traditional more limited goal of relatively modest increases of lifespan.
This is why I always describe myself as “currently incurable”because from my inside view，I see so many promising new cancer drugs ＆ strategies，I can’t feel anything but optimistic that major cancer treatment breakthroughs are fast approaching patients！I am a firm believer that once you have a critical mass of research funding，brilliant scientists and a strong drive to succeed（all scientists know someone who has been stricken by cancer），the human race can solve any problem – including cancer.I believe we are currently living in that moment for cancer drug discovery.Will new advances be made fast enough to save my life？I firmly believe and know that most cases of advanced colon cancer will be cured within my wife’s lifetime – I hope and believe there is a chance that it will happen in my lifetime！Note the word HOPE in that sentence.From my insider’s view as both an oncology research scientist and a “currently incurable”patient，I have a lot of HOPE and so should you！
Cancer Insights by Zhizhong Li is the perfect book for exactly this moment in history.It describes cancer from a range of angles from the scientific to the personal，from the historical to the cutting-edge.It also is infused by that feeling of excitement and HOPE in recent scientific progress that I share – not only as a scientist but as a Stage IV cancer patient.I believe that Cancer Insights will bring you the necessary information to empower you and I also believe that it will infuse you with Hope.