Dead Dinosaurs

Last night trying to get my son to sleep involved listening to ABC Kids listen Imagine This podcast. An episode that has been on regular rotation in our household: Why did the dinosaurs die?

Despite having heard it multiple times before, it seems that last night was the first time that I’d actually listened to it. I mean, I knew it involved an asteroid, but honestly I’d never really thought about it much further than that. I’ve seen Armageddon and Deep Impact, I know the deal with a huge asteroid on its way to make impact with the Earth; it’s not good news for anything in it’s path.

What I hadn’t given much mind to was the indirect effects of the dinosaur-era asteroid. How the intense impact caused the Earth’s structure to destabilise, initiating a large amount of volcanic activity. How this resulted in an atmosphere full of ash, dust and chemical compounds that not only increased temperatures and caused acid rain, but also blocked out the sun. How plants don’t grow well without sun so big animals that rely on eating lots of plants couldn’t get enough to eat. And dinosaurs who eat other dinosaurs aren’t going to get very far once the herbivores start dying off I suppose.

This made me think about other circumstances where it’s not just the big direct impact you need to worry about, but the after effects as well. Like a cancer diagnosis.

A cancer diagnosis has an enormous, immediate impact on an individual. Heck, even detecting a suspected cancer is pretty impactful. We all know being diagnosed and treated for cancer is no easy feat. But what about the other less direct effects?

These are the types of effects that are often called ‘minor’ problems. Minor in the sense that they won’t immediately kill you I guess, but that doesn’t mean they don’t impact your life. Think about someone unable to fulfil basic activities of daily living like buttoning their shirt, preparing meals or pouring a glass of water because they have peripheral neuropathy. Or someone who avoids taking their dog for a walk or going on social outings because of fear of being faecally incontinent. Or someone who can’t sit through meetings at work without getting extreme hot flushes and sweats caused by their tamoxifen. Or someone who develops an ulcer that won’t heal years after completing radiotherapy that is located in a position that can’t be easily dressed and impacts their everyday movements. Minor, perhaps, but definitely capable of eroding someone’s quality of life.

We’re making good progress in delivering better acute cancer care, but we’ve still got some ways to go on improving the supportive and ongoing care. Improving this doesn’t rest with the specialist providers, generalist primary care providers can (and do) make a significant contribution.

The asteroid gets a lot of attention for killing the dinosaurs, but it was the other stuff that really did them in.