Addressing complex, painful, inescapable truths

I spent an evening last week doing two things that, at first, I thought were unrelated.

First, I viewed a preview of “Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies,” a PBS documentary based on the book by Siddhartha Mukherjee. His preview was sponsored by the Iowa Cancer Consortium, The American Cancer Society, The Iowa Department of Public Health and Iowa Public Television. It included excerpts from the 3 part PBS documentary by producer Ken Burns that starts tonight, March 30 and runs through Wednesday, April 1. The preview was followed by a panel discussion. My fellow panelists and I made brief statements, and then entertained a range of outstanding questions from the audience.

If I was to digest the film preview and discussion down to a very brief statement, it would be that cancer is a complex, painful, inescapable truth. We are poised to accelerate progress in our ability to reduce the pain and suffering caused by cancer, but only if we approach that truth face on and in multiple dimensions by investing our time and resources in cancer research, cancer care delivery, quality of life of those touched by cancer and advocacy.

Then, I went home to finish my 2014 taxes.

In thinking about it, perhaps these two things are not so unrelated after all.

Both involve facing up to complex, painful, inescapable truths. The film and discussion brought out the horrific burden of cancer, while also making it clear that ignoring the problem will not make it go away and that, with the right investment, we are at a moment in time where amazing progress is possible.

The same goes for paying taxes. I am not trying to say the pain of preparing and paying taxes compares to that of cancer, but it certainly is something that we know is out there, can not be avoided, is more complex than we would like it, and is best addressed head on.

As I sat going through tax form after tax form, I got some small comfort in knowing that at least some of my taxes were going to support cancer research.  Then, I did a back of the envelope calculation (I was surrounded by lots of envelopes). What that told me was that the federal government invests approximately 1 out of every 625 tax dollars it collects on cancer research. When considering that the preamble of the constitution highlights the role of the federal government is to “provide for the common defense,” this certainly seems like a paltry sum given the pain caused by cancer, and the potential for progress.

That is another complex, painful, inescapable truth.