September 15, 2009

Celebrities and Cancer

Recent days have seen some known personalities succumb to various types of cancer.
  • Patrick Swayze
  • Farrah Fawcett
  • Sen. Ted Kennedy

Lisa Ray has recently revealed that she has been diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

I wonder what effect these sort of news have on the general population. People in India, in particular tend to have strange attitudes towards diseases in general ... huge numbers of Indians still believe in quaint stuff like astrology. Indians probably still believe that if somebody gets cancer or some such dreadful disease, it might have something to do with their past misdeeds and the disease might be a manifestation of God's anger writ large.

When faced with personal disasters such as these, Indians tend to react in weird ways. They tend to start visiting temples and stuff and do more than the usual quota of beseeching God(s).

I find this silly, hilarious, and even irritatingly stupid. Let me explain.

I can say from personal experience how medical science has been a real miracle and a life-saver. The story in gist is this: someone in my family who is about an year younger than me suffers from Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia(CML). The standard of care for that often fatal disease is Gleevec, a medicine developed by Novartis.

This is a 'miracle' cure really as it helps patients survive for much longer periods than they would have managed to without this medicine.

Even my family member has benefited from this. But, somehow they still feel that they need to seek out god men and other miracle-mongerers rather than depending on medical science.

This is not to say that Gleevec is a 'cure' for CML ... far from it. I am reminded of Ted Kennedy and what a shock it was to hear about his death. Even someone like him with access to the finest medical resources that the world has to provide could not defeat cancer — in his case, glioblastoma.

So, I don't know what people expect when they seek out these charlatans and what exactly are these charlatans offering ... do people expect to become immortal with the help of these folks? If that is the case, I have not yet heard of anyone yet becoming immortal with the help of any of these tele-evangelists ... indeed, why don't these folks themselves become immortal if they have all these supernatural 'powers' as they are probably claiming to have?

Even so-called 'educated' people tend to make a beeline to these know-alls ... which is really sad as it sort of tends to defeat the purpose of education in my opinion.

I mean, if someone has gone through the a comprehensive scientific education and yet believes in all these mumbo-jumbo, then what has the person learnt out of his scientific education? The fundamental aim of a science education — or, for that matter, a liberal arts education — should be to teach a student the faculty of critical thinking. If a person with scientific education continues to merely follow the herd, then in my opinion, the person is not really all that different from any illiterate person in a village...

I wonder when people will come to terms with their own mortality ...

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