Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A True Story

This story is true, or at least as much as I know and heard of it.  The moral of the story is about how much we really know and how much we accept as truth.  It's about a woman who developed breast cancer in the 1980s, and her courage and her despair facing that disease.  I, like most, went along with the standard practice and belief at the time.  In a sort of detached way, not really knowing the full implications of the disease or the treatment but knowing only what I heard, that it was a killer and that it could be treated if caught early enough.  A mastectomy was a cure, in most cases, if the disease hadn't spread.  I believe it still is the prescribed treatment along with chemotherapy.  And so in that manner her treatment began and progressed.

It was only a few months ago that I entered a debate with the owner of a trucking company on the benefits of the healthcare reform, among other things, that was then being debated in Congress.  He was against it, "too expensive," he said. During the course of the debate, I claimed that people died from lack of healthcare.  He laughed at that, "lol," he typed, "Name one person," he challenged, "that has died from lack of healthcare insurance."  If I had had my wits about me and a better memory and a quicker mind, I could have told him her name, and named a number of witnesses to boot.  "Take that you son of a bitch!" I could have said.  But, I didn't.  My short memory and narrow purpose of mind stood in the way.

One day a few hours after a chemotherapy treatment, and violently ill from the treatment, she came out of her house to me and pleaded, "I can't take this."  Dumbfounded, and ignorant, I tried to console her and I utterly failed and for several hours I fretted over what to do.  Was there no other way?  She was so miserable.  I was so happy to see her minister stop by.  He said the right words, "You HAVE to do the treatment.  We are counting on your courage.  Your family is counting on your courage.  You can't give up."  He was right, of course.  She continued the treatment which appeared to be successful.  The surgeons who performed the mastectomy "thought they got it all."

I don't recall how she paid for the treatments or the surgery.  Perhaps her health insurance paid for it, but later events hint that perhaps they didn't.  I should have asked, but like most, I didn't.  I simply assumed that it did. But, the cancer returned.  They had not gotten it all and it spread to lymph nodes and bones, or so I was told.  But this time I was told that she had no way to pay for treatments.  Her insurance wouldn't pay for it.  I don't know nor was I told, that I remember, why her insurance wouldn't pay.  Was it a denial of care that we've heard so much about since those days?  Was it a "precondition" that is now the basis of refusal to provide care?  And, again, I accepted that fate without question.  What could one do?  It's a flip of the coin, those who can afford it get it, others don't.  We are dealt our hand of cards and it is those that we must play.  I recall being angry at the circumstance, but I wasn't angry at the "system," the insurance company or the government.  Nor was I angry at the culture that had developed over the years that told us to accept the "common beliefs" that insurance companies are right, that profit is right, that a system that prefers corporate profit over human needs is right.  I believed in actuarial tables that determine who is insured and for what and how much it costs, not human need, and with the healthcare data collected over the years, some diseases are simply too expensive for insurance companies.  Instead, I was angry at fate, at chance, and the bad luck that she encountered.  I was angry at the things I had no control over.  It didn't dawn on me to be angry at anything else.

By the time I saw her again, she was emaciated, skin and bones.  How ridiculous were other things that we've come to accept and that I heard during that visit.  For example, one person wanted to "go to the store" for her, to buy her "low-calorie" food.  I was outraged.  For the love of God, the last thing she needed was a diet.  She need fat on her bones!  Fat to supply the energy she needed to stave off the disease she had for as long as possible.  But, it was just another sign of how much our society has adapted to the propaganda we so readily accept.  It wasn't that, however, that gave me a clue as to how barbaric we've become, at how barbaric our choices are when we choose the "system" over humanity.

It turned out that the only way she could get treatment, and an extremely remote chance for a cure and survival was to join a "test" group, a study of a new cancer treatment a drug company wanted to market.  I believe it was Johnson & Johnson who was conducting the drug trials.  And, according to normal practices, one-half of the study group would take the new drug and the other half would take a placebo.  Nobody knew the identity of anyone in either group, so we didn't know whether she was taking a placebo or the drug.  But, it was free, so she flipped a coin, the results of which she was not told.  But, she secretly, and quietly, knew as her treatments began.

The half that took the placebo is called the "control" group.  The common propaganda is, of course, that the control group is compared to the group who receives the drug and thereby shows how effective the new drug is.  But, if one thinks about that, and the fact that the control group will die, it is really a barbaric test.  The researchers are fully aware that the placebo group will die, and they watch them die while the test proceeds.  They watch them die without the slightest thought, or twinge of conscience, of their dying.  How has it come to a point where we believe that half of a group of people must die in order to see how the other half are able to cope with a new product?  Couldn't the control group have been given an older and known cancer drug and provided just as much of a controlled comparison and knowledge that a placebo did?  It seems to me that an older and known drug would have provided more of a control in the results of the study.  How can a placebo be a better known substance than an older and known quantity?  Except in this case it is known that death will occur.

I heard comments from various people while she underwent the test treatments, never said in her presence.  "She's not getting the drug," they said.  They knew.  She wasn't sick enough after the treatments.  Had she been getting the drug, a strong chemotherapy drug, she would have been physically ill.  Her cancer was progressing, and soon it was beyond cure.  Pain medicine became her primary thought.

If there is any doubt that our inhumane culture is in need of being flipped on its head, then the message wasn't received.  Hey!  Republicans!  Message received?


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