Today I learned that George Bush Sr. shaved his head in a show of support for the son of one the members of his Secret Service detail. Patrick, aged two, is currently receiving treatment and is losing his own hair as a result. The article continues to tell the story about the loss of one of the Bush’s own daughters many years ago:
George W. Bush was their first child, born in 1946. Pauline Robinson Bush — known as Robin — was born in 1949. She was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after her brother Jeb was born in 1953.
[Barbara Bush] recalled asking the doctor what the family should do about Robin’s prognosis.
“She said, ‘You don’t do anything. She’s going to die,’” Barbara Bush said in the interview. “She said, ‘My advice is to take her home, love her. In about two weeks, she’ll be gone.’”
The Bushes did not take that advice. Rather, they sought aggressive treatment, but she passed away in 1953, several months after the diagnosis.
They decided to donate her body to medicine shortly thereafter. Today – sixty years after Robin’s death – a child diagnosed with leukemia has a roughly 85-90% chance of survival. I don’t like calling facts like these “miracles of science”, since it took 60 years, millions of dollars, and the lifetimes of countless doctors, nurses, and lab techs across the world to get us here.
I want to make it clear that I obviously wish Patrick a speedy recovery so he can get on with being a kid and enjoying life, and I think it’s touching that former President Bush gave this gesture of support given his own personal tragedy. However, on a personal level, I was significantly more moved by the fact that I can look at Patrick and know that thanks to modern medicine, his diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. In fact, his odds are pretty good. Seeing how far we’ve come gives me hope that within the span of another few generations we’ll be able to look at the whole of cancer as a minor, treatable illness instead of the beginning of a lifetime of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, biopsies, and perpetual, agonizing uncertainty.