I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked so we’ll have to wait on my follow-up on pharmacist’s refusal and some posts I’ve been working on about curcumin in cancer and the concerns about lay persons making treatment recommendations about lymphoma treatment.
I just learned over the weekend that the brother of one of my best former student lab interns died during a battle with osteosarcoma. He was a 23-year-old athlete who, after a bike wreck and several surgeries, still decided to run a midwestern marathon last fall. After the race, he felt unusual femoral pain that turned out osteosarcoma. He had been beating the cancer and was well enough to coach an athletic event two weeks ago, but felt ill enough to go to the ER that afternoon. He died within a few hours of admission due to a Staph infection or gram-negative sepsis, probably secondary to neutropenia from his doxorubicin chemotherapy two or three days earlier.
My student, being who she is, was doing missionary work with homeless kids in eastern Europe when the call came. Her parents didn’t even live close enough to the hospital to get there in time. And now they are left with this gaping hole in their family after the rollercoaster ride of the cancer diagnosis, the excellent response, and the sudden death.
I know that everyone involved feels terrible, including the docs who are probably second-guessing whether they should have been more aggressive with GM-CSF or whatever blood growth factors they use in these cases. They are a truly wonderful and generous family whom I have been very fortunate to know. As I put my daughter to bed the last two nights, I just couldn’t imagine the pain of a father, and a mother especially, in having to bury a grown child at the threshold of the best life had to offer.
We deal with death all the time in my family as my wife and many of our friends are oncologists and surgeons. What still amazes me is how quickly an otherwise healthy person who is transiently immunosuppressed can die so precipitously from a bacterial infection. It makes me wonder why Big Pharma hasn’t more aggressively tried to tackle this problem, or whether there are challenges that preclude them from doing so. It makes me want to take a tutorial from Tara or Revere or someone at our School of Public Health to learn more, and maybe even get into ID (infectious diseases, not intelligent design) research.
In time, I guess.
But my challenge today is what to write in a sympathy card to the parents and grandparents of this wonderful and vibrant young man. I met him once, two summers ago after his bike wreck, with slings and pins all over his arms and legs. He couldn’t wait to get back on the bike and really minimized the extent of the injuries even though he was also on seizure meds for the head trauma he had incurred. He pumped a lot of life and activity into those 23 years, even coaching on the last day of his life.
My ever-mindful student was already apologizing that she wasn’t sure if she could follow through on her plans to come back and work in my lab since we study the drugs that led to her brother’s demise. What do you say to a family and a student, people who have really become dear friends, when they are faced with this senseless loss?
I know it happens everyday, to little kids and families here in the US and even more so in less fortunate countries.
What I want to do is take a flight to go see them. Hug them. Cry with them. But today, a card will have to do.
Anything I can think to do just seems so inadequate.
Note Added in Proof: Tara’s trackback is a lovely reflection on why those who work in these areas are motivated to do so. Thanks, Tara – I probably need to do a sabbatical in your lab.