Two sides of the coin: Three cancer stories

We have written numerous blog articles about cancer, primers about specific types of the disease, coping mechanisms, and common treatment methods, among similar topics. Today, we are going to talk about the faces of cancer that are oftentimes left out of the limelight. These are cases wherein the cancer or a chronic illness, coupled with unfortunate circumstances, made a person’s life even more difficult and uncomfortable.


Deciding to go through genetic testing is common among people whose families have brushes with cancers. Going through the test would determine if they have the genetic mutations that would put them at a higher risk of contracting a specific cancer. They just have to go to clinic to have their samples drawn, or do a self-test at home and send the results to laboratories. When they get the results, they can have a doctor interpret it to them, and they would know what their next steps should be. Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this is not always as clear cut as it seems.

There is a small risk that some of these genetic tests can produce false results, such as when it would say “positive,” but the person does not have the mutation. It can also say “negative,” when in fact the sample does display a mutation. Due to this, not all doctors advise patients to go through genetic testing unless they have a very strong history of hereditary cancers. However, this risk is very small to begin with, and the benefits of knowing if a person does have the genetic mutation always outweighs the risk.

Yet another downside to genetic testing is the fact that it can be misread altogether. Misinterpretation of the data often leads to misdiagnosis, or telling a patient that he has a disease that he does not have. Since one of the ways through which the spread of cancer is reduced is by surgically removing the affected organ, doctors can then recommend irreversible surgical procedures to reduce the risk. In instances of aggressive breast cancer and cervical cancer, a double mastectomy (the removal of both breasts) and hysterectomy (the removal of the uterus) would often be enough to reduce this risk.

Unfortunately, if it does turn out that the patient does not have the genetic mutation to begin with, these irreversible surgeries would significantly hamper their quality of life. Not only were they put into unnecessary surgery, their quality of life will also be compromised.

Therefore, it always pays to ask for second opinion before jumping the gun and having irreversible surgery. While statistics about misdiagnosis of cancers are inconclusive at this time, the fact remains that the legal industry which pursues doctors who did perform these malpractices are becoming lucrative.

Hospice woes

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), a hospice is the considered model for “quality compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness.” It provides “expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes.” It provides support to the family and focuses on caring for the patient, instead of trying to cure the ailment. It is, in simple terms, a way to ensure that your loved ones are cared for and comfortable in their final moments.

There are over 4,000 hospice agencies in the country, which promises to be available around the clock to ensure that a dying patient’s needs are all met. In 2015, about 1.4 million Medicare patients signed up for hospice care.

Unfortunately, a recent investigation revealed that while hospice agencies promise that they would be there for their loved ones, not all of them were actually present. In fact, some of them vanished just when they were needed the most.

There were at least 3,200 complaints filed with state officials for the neglect their loved ones received. These many cases prompted the government to investigate and determine that many hospices missed visits or failed to deliver the services they promised. The Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) Hospice Survey even revealed that 1 out of 5 respondents said their hospice agencies did not always show up when they needed help.

This therefore concludes that sometimes, even the failsafe you put in place to ease your loved one’s transition can also fail. To avoid this, ensure that you have everything you need at all times to make them more comfortable.

Unpaid leave vs getting checked

One of the mainstays of a cancer patient’s life is the fact that they have to go in ever so frequently for a scan or a checkup. After all, these follow ups ensure that the cancer is gone and has not come back. Unfortunately, all these checkups also mean one thing: cancer patients needs time off work to be able to consult their doctors.

Another unfortunate fact is that only 14% of employers offer paid leave. Meanwhile, only 39% of employers have short-term disability insurance. This means then that cancer patients would have to decide if they will take the day off to take care of their health, or somehow find a compromise between the two.

Cancer care is expensive, even for those who have health insurance. So for some patients, it is a tossup between getting better and ensuring that they don’t lose their jobs due to their too many time off. The result? Many patients would go to the doctor during their lunch hours – and go back to the office afterwards.

Imagine how difficult this is if the patient needs to have chemotherapy. The sad truth is, this actually happens. Patients would go to work in the morning, take an hour for lunch to have their therapies, and go back to the office as if nothing has happened. As you may know, cancer treatments often have side effects that require patients to rest.

Yet these side effects would have to wait as they have to strike the balance between getting well and making sure that they don’t get fired.

Better days ahead

These grim scenarios show how cancer and terminal illnesses can negatively affect society. While cancer is a complex disease to begin with, there are still some stories about it that can make you smile. Stay tuned for our next blog.

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