Rethinking Healthcare

The healing power of the web

Posting in Cancer

I lost a great friend yesterday. Guy Kewney, England's pre-eminent computer journalist for three decades, died of liver cancer. Remembering people with fondness, talking about them, is one vital element in healing, and the Web makes that much easier.

I lost a great friend yesterdayrecently.

Guy Kewney, England's pre-eminent computer journalist for three decades, died of liver cancer.

Back when I first met him, over 20 years ago, news like that would filter out slowly. Yesterday my wife found it on the BBC's tech page. His daughter Lucy announced it on Facebook. The tributes came within a few hours. Everyone was tweeting about him.

Remembering people with fondness, talking about them, is one vital element in healing, and the Web makes that much easier. I remember, two years ago, when my friend Russell Shaw passed. We all had a good virtual cry.

In Guy's case, the sorrow was tinged with laughter, owing to something which happened to him back in 2006. He was scheduled to appear on a BBC morning show, but a Congolese gentleman went on in his place, trying manfully to answer questions about computer trends because he hoped to win a job as a driver.

It came to be known as "the wrong guy" incident, although I always knew Guy Kewney was the right guy. No one was better able to translate complex tech into simple language, with enough wit to keep you interested all the way through.

But when news like this hits you also want answers. This is where the Web really shines.

Liver cancer is especially nasty. If the cancer hasn't spread a transplant is possible. Most often cancer reaches the liver from somewhere else. As a key element in our detox systems it sees every poison we take in.

In this case Guy's cancer came from his bowels, the BBC said. The survival rate from metastatic liver cancer, using standard chemotherapy, is very low.

But there is hope. We always like to believe there is hope. In the case of liver cancer some of that hope comes from Delcath Systems, which has a new way to treat the disease, isolating the liver from the rest of the body, then flooding it with chemo.

The company is currently trading near its high, while waiting on results of a clinical trial that might be followed by an FDA application.

Generally, however, liver cancer remains a bad diagnosis. The standard treatment is Nexavar, whose Web site advertises only "more time" for living. That's because, on average, it extends life by only three months and costs over $5,000/month.

GlobalData expects the market for liver cancer drugs to increase to over $900 million by 2016, from a little over $200 million this year, with as many as 169 new drugs in the pipeline, many of which act in new ways.

All this knowledge came to me in just a half-hour of Googling, and it can come to you too in the same way. The same is true with any dread diagnosis.

One thing I know, no matter what else may be true, is that knowing beats not knowing. And now, thanks to the Web, we can know. You don't have to wait for the doctor to tell you it's hopeless -- even if it's hopeless you can learn that on your own.

How much comfort is this? I don't know exactly. I'll leave you to answer that question. The speed with which we can learn bad news, and react to it, probably means more for now.

And it means a lot.

Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure