kris.jpgThe inspiration for this title is a film produced by actress and photographer Kris Carr called Crazy, Sexy Cancer. She has also written a book and maintains a blog by that name ( Some months ago I saw the stunning, 30-something Ms. Carr (she appears in NFL football commercials) on a TV talk show, and I can attest that she is quite sexy in spite of having 23 tumors in her body and a diagnosis of “terminal.” But my guess is that her sex appeal is mostly genetic.

Cancer is crazy all right, but it’s anything but sexy. In fact, it often robs people of their sexuality. Like with prostate cancer. But when I say cancer is unsexy I mean it in a different way — that it is not hip as a world cause like say — global warming. There is no Al Gore prophesying doom if we don’t find a cure for cancer. Even thought 6,500,000 people worldwide die of it every year. And often suffer great pain. No, we are told with a zeal more appropriate for religion than science, that what virtuous people are supposed to worry about most is climate change.

Cancer has been killing and maiming for hundreds of years. In spite of this:

“There is no coordinated global action on prostate cancer or, indeed, on any form of cancer. The United Nations succeeded in eliminating smallpox and has made the eradication of malaria and tuberculosis part of its Millennium Development Goals. This, even as cancer kills more than malaria and tuberculosis together.”

(Arnon Krongrad, MD, “The Global Epidemic”, The Miami Herald, March 10, 2008).

One of the most prominent thinkers of our age is the Princeton theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson. He calls himself a heretic, and he is so in more ways than one. First, he’s a scientist who’s won the prestigious Templeton Award for Religion (usually science and religion keep their distance). Second, Dyson believes that too much emphasis is put on global warming and that it diverts scarce resources. And Dyson is not afraid to jump into the fray. He writes (“Heretical Thoughts About Science And Society,” 8/8/07, Edge Magazine

“There is no doubt that parts of the world are getting warmer, but the warming is not global. I am not saying that the warming does not cause problems. Obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it better. I am saying that the problems are grossly exaggerated.”

Dyson goes on at length about the science of global warming, which I’m not qualified to comment about. But then he turns his attention to other things. He writes that apart from the dispute over the facts there exists between the believers and the doubters a fundamental disagreement about values. On one side are the naturalists and on the other the humanists: Dyson explains:

“Naturalists believe that nature knows best. For them the highest value is to respect the natural order of things. Any gross human disruption of the natural environment is evil. Excessive burning of fossil fuels is evil.

“The humanist ethic begins with the belief that humans are an essential part of nature. Through human minds the biosphere has acquired the capacity to steer its own evolution, and now we are in charge. Humans have the right and the duty to reconstruct nature so that humans and biosphere can both survive and prosper.

For humanists, the highest value is harmonious coexistence between humans and nature. The greatest evils are poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, disease and hunger, all the conditions that deprive people of opportunities and limit their freedoms. The humanist ethic accepts an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a small price to pay, if world-wide industrial development can alleviate the miseries of the poorer half of humanity. The humanist ethic accepts our responsibility to guide the evolution of the planet.

I agree with the humanists. We have not just the right but the duty to eradicate cancer so that we can survive and prosper. And we need to get this message out to the world.

In other words, we need to make cancer SEXY.