Every day, it seems, there are more and more news reports about cancer and cancer treatments. Within the last week, Melbourne researchers have reported finding that a "positive attitude", while it might make the rigours of cancer treatment more bearable, has no impact on the spread of the disease.
Also, news of a possible screening test for ovarian cancer (women taking Tamoxifen have a higher risk of developing this cancer, which is hard to detect in its early stages).
There's been a reported drop in the number of breast cancer cases, coinciding with a drop in hormone therapy use for menopausal symptoms.
And today, news from a team of Canadian researchers at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference linking vitamin D deficiencies to the more rapid spread of breast cancer.
That's four articles in four days, practically, all on breast cancer, and three out of four from Australian researchers. What an extraordinary amount of research into this disease — or perhaps it's just the disease that is regarded as newsworthy.
It's a bit hard to know how to respond to these developments. I'm grateful, of course, that such research has made my own outlook so good. For the record, I'm now in the twentieth month of a five year treatment plan. In five months I'll have my second annual mammogram and ultrasound, but I see my oncologist every three months and the general consensus is that I'm doing very well. I've cut down on my consumption of alcohol and processed meats; and generally improved my diet. I'm exercising regularly; and meditating occasionally; and trying to keep my stress levels down (though in the current climate at my university, about which I think I have been extraordinarily discreet on this blog, that is exceptionally difficult).
Many of these developments are coming too late for me, of course, though I've always liked the idea of getting a little vitamin D from the sun. Australians find it hard to balance the need for vitamin D against the need to guard against skin cancer, which is rife here.
My own prognosis is so good I'm not really at all on the lookout for alternative treatments or needing to hunt down the latest research. But I can imagine how people with more advanced cancers must greet this kind of research; and how people with much rarer conditions must despair at the uneven distribution of research funds.
At the very least, though, I now have a cancer antenna. People sometimes make a special point of telling me about their friends and relations who have cancer, though I'm still not always strong enough to doanything about this. But there is also a lovely solidarity amongst people I know with cancer. I feel closer, I think, than I would otherwise have done, to three friends in particular: Peter, Trish and Alison. And actually, special congratulations to Alison, who's just finished radiotherapy and chemotherapy, and who joined our Tuesday tennis group at work and played throughout her radiotherapy treatment. And to Trish (Crawford), too, a much-loved figure in early modern and women's history who was presented with a festschrift on just one of the fields in which she works at the Perth conference last week. Trish is an inspirational figure to many historians and feminist scholars, and was one of the first people to comment on an academic paper I gave (on Christine de Pisan, in 1985, I think). She's an inspiration to me now, for facing the difficulties of advanced breast cancer with courage and dignity and as clear an intellect as an academic scholar, or anyone, really, could wish.