Warning: This is a bit negative, even for me, so make sure you’re feeling positive and upbeat before you read it. And afterwards, go look at pictures of cute puppies or something. A picture of my favorite cutie is here, just for some balance.
I just read a book where a little boy has a fatal, degenerative disease. It was fiction, and the disease was made up, so I knew, based on the type of book, that the disease would be cured just before it killed him. And of course, it was.
My health problems are not fatal, but they’re degenerative. And there’s no miracle cure about to come fix me. The problem is, I don’t think most people understand that.
In books and movies, tv shows and plays, it so often happens that a miracle cure comes along just in time. Some researcher has a great idea, loved ones waive all liability, the cure is administered, and everyone lives happily ever after. It happens practically over night. In fact, not only does the disease stop getting worse, but they even manage to improve the person’s health, as in the novel I just read, so that they get to be completely healthy. If only, right?
After so much exposure of this sort, people start to think that this is how it works in the real world. Those of us who actually have these diseases know better, though. We follow all the research on our disease. We know who’s working on it and who isn’t. We know how much money is being spent on our disease versus others. We know if the focus is on cures or on treatments or maybe, if we’re really lucky, on both. We know if any work is being done on preventative measures or on diagnostic techniques. Some of us follow the research in great detail and others only have a vague awareness, but we all know. We know, on some level, if a promising cure or treatment is in the works or if it’s something we’ll be lucky to see 40 years from now.
We also know that even if a cure or treatment is close, that doesn’t mean it’s accessible to us. If a cure was found today, how long would it take to reach its intended target? Well, the answer varies based on so many factors, but the answer is always measured in years, not in days like in the movies. Even if you manage to get into a human trial of the treatment, and even if you manage to get the drug instead of a placebo, human trials don’t happen over night. There are so many stages that come first, including animal trials. FDA approval is needed in the U.S. And there are great risks to taking an untested drug. You know how sometimes you take a drug knowing there’s a slight chance, or even a great chance, of a certain side effect? Well who do you think gets those side effects first? Yep, the testers. It’s definitely risky.
And sometimes it’s difficult or even impossible to get into those trials. If you have to wait for the drug to come to market, it can take so much longer. But wait, don’t forget the costs! The pharmaceutical companies just spent a whole lot of money developing whatever you’re about to take and they want to get some of that money back. In the books and movies you just get the drug. There’s insurance or a rich uncle or some compassionate benefactor. Too bad it isn’t always like that in the real world. If you don’t happen to have insurance to cover the drug (and it often doesn’t cover the new ones) and if you don’t have the money to pay for it (which could easily be tens of thousands of dollars – no that isn’t an exaggeration) then you’re just out of luck. Sorry. Too bad. Go home.
So the next time someone says, “Isn’t there a pill you can take?” send them over here. Maybe this will open their eyes just a bit. There isn’t a cure, or even a treatment, for every illness. Oh, how I wish there were. Some are getting closer, but people need to trust us when we tell them if there’s a treatment coming or not. We’re paying attention. We know these things. We’re not about to be surprised over night. If and when a treatment comes along, we’ll know about it long before we’re able to take it, and we’ll be counting down the years.