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Erin Anderssen on Cancer: A Day in the Life

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Ryan Rankin from Windsor, Canada writes: Hi Ms. Anderssen. I was quite moved by the stories you wrote. For those of us truly moved by your work, what do you suggest we do now?

Erin Anderssen: Hi Ryan, and thanks for your question. One thing that I learned from this project is how often people with cancer feel that no one wants to listen to them. They say it is often assumed that because their treatment is over, or they have "beaten it," that their cancer is over. In truth, people in the midst of a cancer diagnosis are struggling with their fears of dying, and if they are finished, they are haunted by fears that it will come back.

If anything comes of this story, I would hope that more people take the time to call a friend or family they know who is facing cancer -- or had faced cancer in the past, even -- and let them talk about how they are really doing.

Scott Lapstra from Toronto, Canada writes: I thoroughly enjoyed the Focus section and am very thankful for my good health, but do have an inquiry about cancer rates in general. While perception is that cancer is at epidemic proportions, is this actually true? My limited understanding of the disease leads me to the understanding that cancer is primarily a disease related to age (not withstanding the many stories of younger cancer victims profiled); if this is true, are our aging demographics influencing the conventional perspective that cancer rates are increasing disproportionately within the overall population?

Erin Anderssen: Hi Scott: It is true that the increasing number of new cases is primarily due to our aging population. According to national statistics released for 2006, the actual rate of new cancer incidents has increased only slightly, while the mortality rate has declined slightly since 1977. But the rising number of cancer incidents -- and the fact that people are able to live much longer with the disease -- will create a heavy burden on the health care system, particularly since 2006 estimates suggest the majority of those cases will be between the ages of 40 and 70, their prime working years. This is why we need to be clear about a national strategy for dealing with cancer.

Rebecca Dube, globeandmail.com: Thanks Ms. Anderssen, and thanks to everyone who joined us online. Sorry we couldn't get to all the questions, but that's all the time we have for today. Ms. Anderssen, any parting thoughts?

Erin Anderssen: I would just like to thank again all the people who agreed to be interviewed for the story. Hopefully their perspectives have helped to enlighten the way we view the personal impact of cancer -- and will improve the way we treat the people who close to us who may someday hear those terrifying words: You have cancer.

Rebecca Dube, globeandmail.com: One final note: Many of the questions submitted touched on medical questions about the causes of cancer and political questions about how the disease is treated in this country. I encourage everyone who's interested in the topic to continue following our cancer series. In today's paper, Lisa Priest writes about how many Canadians can't afford cancer drugs, and how the social safety net varies dramatically from province to province. Ms. Priest will be online Friday to talk about her series of stories, running all this week in The Globe and Mail; please bring your questions to that discussion as well. Thanks for joining the conversation.

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