September and October are always weird for me. On the one hand, you have Childhood Cancer Awareness, a cause I have dedicated time, money and even hair to. Close on its heels comes October and Breast Cancer Awareness month- something I feel equally passionate about for obvious reasons. I always feel a little torn, like I don’t have enough to dedicate fully to either month. Lately, I’ve been feeling a paradigm shift happening and it’s really come into focus today.
Back in February, my aunt emailed me while sitting in her infusion chair where toxic chemicals slowly dripped into her bloodstream. Vice President Biden was having another round table discussion at Huntsman Cancer Institute. “If you’re bored” she prefaced, with the link to the live video feed. I was currently out with the flu- feeling much better but certainly not well enough to be among the ranks of my fellow nurses yet. So yes, I was bored.
I watched as doctors, senators, family members, patients and nurses discussed the best ways to make our research more cohesive. That was a large part of the discussion- how can we bring our research together and make it more accessible and translatable?
Of course I heard about the “moonshot” initiative. Initially, there was a big push with the Pediatric Oncology community to try and get more focus for optimizing treatment in childhood cancers. For years I have railed against the lack of federal funding for childhood cancer research (a whopping 4% according to some sources).
But in the last few months, I realized that the reason behind such focus on research and treatment in adult oncology is because so many adults don’t make it. I haven’t lost sight of the fact that the treatment we offer children affects them for the rest of their lives; that more federal funding could actually help to tailor treatments to minimize permanent damage to these children. Working in Corvallis during this time helped me gain insight into the need for better treatments for everyone. The mantra keeps repeating in my head.
We are all in this together.
Yet, something Vice President Biden mentioned on several occasions struck me back then. What interventions could be made in order to make access to cancer treatment and research more available? Namely, are there barriers that could be either removed or at least minimized by our government? These past few months, it made itself plainly known.
Mr Vice President, I know of a barrier that continues to prevent patients from receiving quick and efficient cancer treatment: insurance companies.
When treatment is delayed-sometimes by precious, life-saving weeks- because the insurance company needs to “authorize” the treatment protocol.
When the insurance company refuses to cover BRCA testing for a patient because of the expense, even though this testing would help with prevention and surveillance of cancer in her children and grandchildren.
When a person who is dying from metastatic disease has to choose between hospice and palliative chemotherapy- because even palliative treatment is still, in fact, “treatment” and insurance will only pay for one or the other. Not both.
When research and pharmaceutical companies need to offer grant programs to help pay for life-saving treatments because insurance companies won’t.
These are the barriers to care that both adult and pediatric oncologists face. Yes, we need more research. We need people to get involved in studies, we need donations to Susan G. Komen, American Cancer Society, St. Baldricks, CureSearch– because we are all in this together.
We need better treatments, but we also need a better focus on quality of life. We need insurance coverage for adjunct therapies that have proven to be effective in reducing pain and stress. Most importantly, we need insurance companies to stop dictating the quality of care that patients receive.
Don’t think that just because it hasn’t happened to you or someone you know or someone you love that it doesn’t affect you. Cancer affects everyone. Kids, teens, adults.
WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.
And if the government wants to get on board…yeah…that’d be great.