7.24.2009

Are you kidding me?!

Ok so I stumbled across an article from the NY Times (July 17th - front page) when I was reading posts in one of my online cancer support groups. The more I read, the angrier I got! All I keep thinking is "Are you kidding me?!" Since when is it cost effective or beneficial to treat someone with advanced cancer rather than catching it in its early stages because of careful and dilligent screening? Maybe they are trying to promote that the better choice is to ignore screening guidelines and signs from our bodies so that by the time we do get checked, the cancer is too far advanced to do anything but get our affairs in order. I guess this could save the insurance companies millions because they would be off the hook for the very costly chemo treatments... of course then the pharmeceutical companies are out their cut of the deal...

Our current healthcare system is skewed, only paying when there is a major problem but not doing anything to help patients prevent the problem in the first place. Many plans [including Medicare] currently do not pay for annual physical exams, screening exams, alternative/complementary medicine [ie: chiropractors, massage therapy, nutritionists] but they have no problem shelling out thousands for an ER visit w/several imaging studies & labs, surgery & inpatient hospital stay, chemotherapy & radiation treatments... all for an advanced cancer found too late because of lack of regular monitoring/screening.

As a self-proclaimed cancer activist and awareness diva, I am appalled by the accusation that these current awareness campaigns are all about making money and driving fear into our hearts. I have experienced, firsthand, how routine screenings can save the lives of people I love...

Take my dad for example... he went to our fabulous Dr and got his routine PSA screening [a simple and low cost blood test]. The numbers were up from the previous test and had climbed higher than they should so he was sent to the Urologist. They determined he had prostate cancer and my dad was given options for treatment. [surgical removal or radioactive seed placement] Generally, prostate cancer is a slow-growing cancer and the seeds work well in killing off cancer cells. Well, my mom and dad opted for the surgery, deciding that any chance of a cancer cell growing in his body would be too much cancer for them! [I agree!] When my dad's final path report came back, it was discovered that he had a very aggressive form of prostate cancer. If he hadn't had doctors that promoted screenings and presented options, I firmly believe my dad would not be here today.

And then there's my case... no, my cancer was not found through a routine screening. I found "Bob" myself because I was trying to rub away what I thought was muscle strain after moving. The second I felt it in my neck, I knew something wasn't right but I waited a couple days for it to go away before calling the fabulous Dr. Within 3 days I had all the standard screening tests and biopsies that showed that it wasn't cancer. I was given options to have surgery right away [only because it was crushing my carotid, esophagus, & trachea] or to wait a bit until it caused me more problems or went away. I don't like anything growing in my body that isn't supposed to be there so I opted for the surgery! Of course you know the end of that story... "Bob" was sent to Mayo and they confirmed that I have a rare type of papillary thyroid cancer. Again I have been given a choice, have surgery to remove the remaining half of my thyroid or watch&wait to see if medication will supress any cancer cells left because my kind of cancer is a "slow-growing" cancer. My research has told me I have an 80% chance that there is more cancer on the other side and a 50% chance that there is cancer in my local lymph nodes. Also, my kind of cancer has a tendency to mutate over time into anaplastic thyroid cancer which is one of the most aggressive cancers out there and usually has a prognosis of less than 1yr to live. I am opting for the surgery and RAI to increase my chances of getting all the stupid cancer cells out! In addition to the monitoring I will have for the rest of my life for thyroid cancer, I will be proactive about getting my routine screening exams for breast cancer as well as doing my monthly self exams. The fun present that my thyroid cancer has given me [especially since i am aged 30-34yrs old] is that I now have a risk of breast cancer 1.9 times higher than the general population. Couple that with my family [on both sides] history of breast cancer...

So I will continue to be an advocate and promote awareness for cancer. I will continue to hand out self breast exam cards at fundraising events. I will continue to wear my "pink gear" out and about and answer questions from curious people. I will buy a "new & improved: now with more radiation!" shirt. And I may just make a shirt that says "check your neck" just for good measure.

If I make just one person more aware of their own body and health I will be happy.

Remember: Early detection is the best protection!

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