GENDUSA COLUMN: Angels in lab coats

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, October 13, 2021

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I despise COVID for many reasons. It kills, maims, harms, and destroys, but we can radically alter its ability to do so if we collectively try. So many other diseases do not come with such an option.

October is breast cancer awareness month. Typically, pink surrounds fall’s colors, reminding us of the disease that will claim an estimated 43,600 women and men this year.  Lung cancer will claim approximately 131,880 in 2021. Cancer, heart disease, and other catastrophic illnesses have no vaccine available to stop their killing tenacles. All we have is science, research and medicines that ease and reduce the horror of them all. 

A total of 700,000 Americans have died from COVID in less than two years.  Science created a way to curb the sting of its death, but some folks listen only to what they want to hear concerning preventing loss and debilitating illness from COVID.  A percentage of people are afraid of the unknown, the uncertainty, or the science.

People may claim many reasons for not receiving the COVID vaccine, some of which are valid. However, one is that the vaccine did not go through many years of research before it was approved. Have they multiplied 4.8 million (worldwide) by all those years? Obviously, time was an issue.

Dennis Joseph Slamon, born in 1948, is the son of a coal miner from New Castle, Pennsylvania. Dennis was obviously a very bright young man who graduated from Washington and Jefferson College and pursued his dream to become a physician in the field of oncology. He later continued his education and received a Ph.D. in cell biology. Today, Dr. Dennis J. Slamon is a researcher, a scientist, a physician, and an angel. Sometimes God can select a person from the humblest beginnings and bless them with the ability to move a mountain, solve world problems, or save countless lives. 

In a short version of a long story, Dr. Slamon could not understand why 30% of women with the same type of breast cancer in the same stage died at an alarmingly faster rate than others. Why were some breast cancers more aggressive? Accompanied by other research teams, he discovered a protein attached to a cancer cell they would later call “Her-2.” Once they found that Her-2 caused breast cancer to become aggressive, Dr. Slamon, Genentech Research, and other scientists doggedly pursued a way to develop a medicine to save lives. 

The drug, Herceptin, was first given to breast cancer patients with the Her-2 protein in 1998. Today approximately 3 million women have been treated with Herceptin. Before developing this drug, these women who carried the deadly Her-2 protein had a life expectancy of no more than five years. Three million women continue to be mothers, grandmothers, wives, sisters, and aunts because of scientists, a physician, and a drug.   

Don’t tell me to ignore science.  I am offended when I receive a conspiracy-laced email encouraging me not to trust doctors, researchers, or medicine. If Dr. Slamon had not sat in his UCLA lab determined to end as much death, pain and heartache as he possibly could, then my child would not be here today. 

Yes, drugs can create problems and side effects, and no medicine is assured of a permanent fix without issues.

But when one is viewing death, one must take the chance. When we face debilitating diseases, most of us will try anything to live on because perhaps we have more to do and continue to care for those we love. 

Without science and technology, many of us would not be here. My grandfather would have lived longer if bypass surgery was an option. My friend would not be crippled from polio if the Salk vaccine had been available to her earlier.  Typhoid, diphtheria, smallpox, measles, whooping cough claimed so many, but science and research proved that it could tame or eradicate the killing tentacles of many diseases. 

Today 700,000 Americans are in graves, and we still have some who don’t trust those sent to save our lives. People are afraid of the reactions and risks. What drug doesn’t come with side effects? I don’t know of one. I know that Herceptin, with its known long-term side effects, continues to give women a chance to raise their children, to live longer, to flourish without fear of death at any moment.

Yes, don’t tell me not to listen to science.

For so many, medicine is all they have available to live another day.  Sometimes angels are disguised in lab coats, and they often will look through a microscope and miraculously discover a cure. I thank God every day for them.  And you should too.