by Rob Densen
Originally published August 30th, 2011 on The
I came home Monday night, took one look at my wife, and knew something was
"Honey, what is it?" I asked, half inquiring, half -- by way of my sheepish
intonation -- signaling my acceptance of the blame for whatever was awry in her
"The refrigerator.... It's dead."
"Dead, as in finito? Beyond any reasonable hope of repair?"
"Dead as in last week's vegetable lasagna is lying in the sink, a disgusting,
slimy mush. And your no-sugar-added fudge pops? Let's just say you don't want to
know what they look like."
And then came the knockout punch. "This is your fault."
I couldn't argue. For the last week or so, as our 14-year-old refrigerator
struggled for its last few cooling breaths, I was making my wife miserable in
her search for a replacement, something that should, normally, be a mindless,
Our late refrigerator was a full-length side by side, with beveled wood
panels on the doors which we got to match the cabinetry when we remodeled the
kitchen. When it came to a replacement, I had relented on figuring out how to
match the cabinets, but I was insistent on a side by side. My wife preferred the
fridge-on-top-with-French-doors-freezer-on-the-bottom arrangement that is all
For the record, my preference for a side by side wasn't just a matter of
style. With a reconstructed knee, a frozen shoulder, and two bulging discs in my
back wrapped around a giant lazy streak, I generally go out of my way to avoid
any sort of bending motion. It's not impossible, just a little
In the week we dilly-dallied, the food was melting in the fridge -- and my
wife was on the way.
The next night I returned home and all was fine. "I ordered the top/down
model. It will be here Thursday."
She had been to her Pilates class earlier in the day and, in the midst of a
long discussion with her instructor, it all became clear. "I realized," she
said, "that this will be my last refrigerator."
A Life Measured in Kilowatt Hours
I couldn't argue with her. Not with the logic and, most regrettably, not with
the truthfulness of that statement. My wife has Stage IV lung cancer. Given the
arc of the disease and the quality of refrigerator design and construction, it
is highly probable that this will be her last refrigerator. The question is, are
we also on our last washing machine, hairdryer or big screen TV?
It is unbelievably painful -- but sobering and highly instructive -- to look
at lung cancer that way. Diagnosed with lung cancer and you're not talking
decades, but kilowatt hours.
It is an incredibly virulent disease. Overall, lung cancer has a 15%
five-year survival rate. Stage IV lung cancer, the most common staging at
diagnosis, has a 4% survival rate. Look at it this way: by the time you've
finished reading this post, two more Americans will be diagnosed with lung
cancer. They are likely to be dead within five years.
Here's another cold, hard and, I hope, unacceptable fact: 160,000 Americans
will die of lung cancer in 2011 -- three times more than the next most deadly
cancer and more than prostate, breast, pancreatic, pediatric and colon cancer
And while breast cancer grabs the attention, the funding dollars and the 5K
walk participants, the fact is that close to 70% MORE WOMEN will die of
lung cancer this year than will die of breast cancer. Many of them will be women
like my wife who never smoked, Indeed, cancer in women who never smoked is one
of the fastest growing cancers. No one knows why. Regrettably, not many people
are even asking the question.
Of Lung Cancer and Consumer Electronics
We're so good at -- and obsessed with -- technological innovation for
applications both frivolous and mundane. Yet, we're so bad at deploying our
ample resources -dollars and brainpower -- against a disease that devastates
close to a quarter million families every year.
Go into any consumer electronics or appliances store and you will be dazzled
by the technological innovation. It's all so head-spinning that I need to take a
Dramamine before going to the Apple Store.
Our new fridge? It's probably good for 20 years. Plus, the ice cube dispenser
knows exactly how many ice cubes I take in my Diet Coke. The picture on my HDTV
is so clear that I saw shaving cream in Brian Williams' ear the other night and,
even as I write this, the cell phone in my jacket pocket is secretly capturing
the inner-most thoughts of the guy sitting next to me on the train. I may be
exaggerating, but not by much.
Finally, consider this -- last year, Apple spent $1.8 billion on R&D
(Microsoft spent more than four times that amount) Want to know what the
National Cancer Institute spent researching lung cancer, the number #1 cancer
killer by a factor of three -- about $282 million.
We can communicate globally without concern for time or distance, access the
world's libraries from our desktops, tap orbiting satellites to map the most
routine trip, and short gold with a swipe on our phone. We've made a Jackass
movie in 3-D -- and there are smartphone applications that fight acne. But we
can't figure out how to diagnose lung cancer early, or why non-smoking women are
getting cancers in record numbers, or how to boost overall lung cancer
survivability from a mere 15%?
Something is badly off in our world. Shameful, actually. There's an app for
that. It's called compassion.
For more information or to support lung cancer research and advocacy, please
visit one or more of the following sites: Uniting Against Lung Cancer,
OneBreath, The Bonnie J.
Addario Lung Cancer Foundation, National Lung Cancer
Partnership, or the Lung Cancer Alliance