The C word

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health care

Cure – it’s a controversial word. It can conjure images as divergent as laying of hands by healers and targeted gene therapy.

Most health-care practitioners when pressed are more than a little hesitant to consider patients “cured.”

The word conveys finality. Cure is the complete removal of disease, but is a disease truly removed if its effects cannot be reversed? The terms “successfully treated” or “well managed” may seem much more political, but are usually the most accurate way to describe a positive medical outcome.

The concept of cure involves a return to an original disease-free state, a reversion to the way things were. As any cancer survivor will tell you, they are changed. Cancer, and many chronic and acute illnesses, leave their mark. Individuals are undoubtedly irreversibly changed – changed physically, emotionally, and mentally.

All things considered, fulfilling the requirements to use the term “cure” is pretty tough.

Largely abandoning the word cure isn’t a practice in pessimism; it honours an individual’s experience. The disease experience is much more than a physiological change, although physiology is important. Health, and the lack of health, are holistic experiences. For some they are deeply emotional and spiritual, not to mention financially challenging. Health is an ingrained component of every experience of our lives; it impacts how we perceive our reality, how we relate to one another, and how we view ourselves.

Conceptually, no one cure can permeate the disease experience and restore all aspects of one’s life to their pre-existing state.

While the ultimate goal of “cure” for a disease is a noble one, the reality of most medical conditions makes a goal of a “treatable” classification a successful development.

We have by no means cured diabetes, but a young child diagnosed today with type 1 diabetes can expect a quality of life unimaginable to a similar child born before Sir Frederick Banting’s isolation of insulin. It is an achievement rightfully celebrated, and is by no means discounted by not reaching the goal of “cure.”

Popular media often discuss progress in health research as “the next step in finding a cure” and romanticize the work of researches as “the search for the cure.” Certainly this is headline grabbing, but can overshadow impactful work.

While less eye grabbing, research relating to prevention can be remarkably impactful on human health. The advent of public sanitation, the introduction of anti-smoking campaigns, and air pollution reduction strategies has all had enormous health impacts. Such preventive actions are complex, take political will, and require significant change in normal behaviour.

The old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is no less true today. While preventative medicine and disease management are less glorified than “cure”, they remain remarkable and important aspects of our shared health experience.

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