“In reaffirming the greatness of our
nation, we understand that greatness is never a given; it must be earned.
“Our journey has never been one of short cuts or settling for less. It has
not been the path for the faint-hearted—for those who prefer leisure over
work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. “What is required of us
now is a new era of responsibility.” —President Barack Obama’s inaugural
remarks on January, 20.
When I read an e-mail sent to me by a
cancer patient, President Obama’s inaugural speech resonated. Below is a
heart-breaking story of a citizen of this country (a story echoed by
hundreds of others) who is a victim of people—those who failed her, who
accepted “duties grudgingly, of those who seek only riches and fame.” “Dear
Ira, “Your last commentary brought me to tears, as I am a cancer patient
struggling with treatment in Trinidad. “I cannot tell you how hurt I felt
that the Prime Minister took care of himself by going to Cuba and left the
rest of us to take what is available here. This is my story: “I was 49 years
old and the mother of four children ( three boys—24, 16, 11—and one girl, 7)
when I was rushed to a nursing home with severe abdominal pain last May. A
CT scan showed two large ovarian masses, and surgery was done almost
immediately at enormous financial cost.
“They did a total abdominal
hysterectomy and removed the ovaries and momentum. The tissue was sent to
pathology services for a report. “I was told I had ovarian cancer. I was
referred to a doctor for treatment who recommended the standard treatment
for ovarian, ie, six cycles of taxol/carboplatin. “The masses did not
puncture the ovarian capsules, and so it was felt that I had a fairly good
prognosis. “The doctor who did the surgery was supposed to check
neighbouring tissue and take samples of lymph nodes, etc, for biopsy, but
did not do that. “Without that, it was impossible to state with certainty
what stage I was at.
“I transferred to the National
Radiotherapy Centre in St James for chemo, when I realised how high the cost
was for chemo privately. I was paying $10,000 per session. “After having
five cycles of chemotherapy, I had a CT scan on September 10, 2008, at a
private medical centre. This scan showed new liver nodules (lesions
indicating cancer) that were not there before and a normal colon. “My
oncologist was puzzled over how it spread to the liver, despite the chemo.
“Five days later, on September 15, I collapsed and was rushed to a private
nursing home, only to be told that I had a colon blockage. “Non-surgical
techniques to unblock the colon failed, and so surgery was performed,
revealing a mass/tumour in the colon!
“Note the inaccuracy of the
radiologist who read that CT scan just five days before! “Because of this,
my oncologist indicated that we should send the original tissue from the
first surgery (ie, ovaries, etc) for re-testing abroad at the Mayo Clinic.
“This cost me $10,000! “Guess what, Ira? I never had ovarian cancer, but
colon cancer, which had spread to the ovaries. “If the pathology was done
adequately in the first place, I would have been given the correct
treatment/chemo for colon cancer since May, 2008, and would not have all the
spread (to the liver, etc) that I now had. “I am now one of those given the
most terrible prognosis (stage four like your brother).
“I was so afraid of the public health
system; I spent a lot of money in the private health system, thinking I was
getting good health care, but that failed as well. “Please, warn people that
even the private hospitals and specialists are not up to scratch, and that
it is important they get a second opinion on their pathology reports. “Many
radiologists are not reading even CT scans accurately! “When I reported the
Mayo Clinic’s findings to the staff at the National Radiotherapy Centre,
they informed me that such errors in pathology reports were common. No one
ever tells patients these things. “So I am continuing on chemotherapy at St
James. I get there about 8 am for chemo, and never get to see the doctor,
who puts in the IV, until about 11 am, or later.
“Last session, they did not have one
of the drugs, and so, many patients were not given their chemo as scheduled,
or some, like me, did without.
“In a country with such wealth, why are we building mega structures while
leaving citizens to suffer? “Surely, the best care available to our Prime
Minister should be available to the rest of us.” As told to Ira Mathur.
Ultimately, the letter above is not about cancer, but the disease that
affects people with the power to heal and nurture, be they politicians or
doctors. Its symptoms are pride, apathy, indifference and self-interest.
President Obama is being hailed as the new Messiah, because every message of
his is about neighbourliness.
I close with his words, hoping they
will help the woman with stage four cancer encounter such people among us
every day of her life to help her along, to encourage her. “It is,
ultimately, the faith and determination of the American people upon which
this nation relies. “It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the
levees break; the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours
than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.
“It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but
also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child that finally decides our