Not to be overly dramatic, but for me the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act was a matter of life and death. Because the law was largely upheld, I will be able to continue receiving treatment for breast cancer.
I was one of the early beneficiaries of the law. When I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer late last year, I had no health insurance, which meant my options were extremely limited. No insurer would pick up someone in my circumstances. But luckily, the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan had already kicked in, and it made it possible for me to purchase insurance under a government program.
I was uninsured not because I’m a lazy, freeloading deadbeat but because my husband and I are self-employed. We had been purchasing health insurance on the individual market along with 6% of the rest of the population. But after exhausting all of our resources trying to keep up with premiums of $1,500 a month, we had no choice but to cancel it.
First, a confession: I like to watch reality TV. Not all reality TV, not often. (I wish I could say, as I would about a junky magazine, “I saw it at the hairdresser” or “ . . . while I was waiting in line at the supermarket.” But no — I sit in my living room, turn on the TV, and choose the station. I take full responsibility. Though I do also use the time to fold laundry.)
The show I’ve gotten hooked on lately is called “Giuliana and Bill.” Giuliana and Bill are on TV because they are famous for being on TV — she as a host of E! News and he as a winner of “The Apprentice.” Their eponymous reality show, about the ups and downs of their marriage, is a marvel of glitzy minutiae. Giuliana and Bill are just like us, only with a lot more Hermès accessories. They bicker; they smooch; they argue about what to have for dinner; they host New Year’s Eve in Times Square. It’s “reality” — life’s big and little moments, carefully staged to seem breezy and spontaneous. But what has hooked me on the show this year is that “reality” has suddenly collided with reality: Giuliana’s diagnosis of breast cancer.
Giuliana and Bill started as a show about newlyweds who wanted to have a baby. But the couple wrestled with infertility, and an IVF pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Before proceeding with another round of fertility treatment their doctor insisted on a mammogram.
Breast cancer was diagnosed last October; and after Giuliana’s lumpectomies failed to produce cancer-free margins, she and Bill had to decide what to do next.
Cancer. It’s a word that creates fear and uncertainty. Many of the doctors I know use the word “hate” whenever they discuss their feelings about cancer.
Last Thursday, my wife Kathy was diagnosed with poorly differentiated breast cancer. She is not facing this alone. We’re approaching this as a team, as if together we have cancer. She has been my best friend for 30 years. I will do whatever it takes to ensure we have another 30 years together.
She’s has agreed that I can chronicle the process, the diagnostic tests, the therapeutic decisions, the life events, and the emotions we experience with the hope it will help other patients and families on their cancer treatment journey.
Here’s how it all started.
On Monday, December 5, she felt a small lump under her left breast. She has no family history, no risk factors, and no warning. We scheduled a mammogram for December 12 and she brought me a DVD with the DICOM images a few minutes after the study. On comparison with her previous mammograms it was clear she had two lesions, one anterior and one posterior in a dumbbell shape. I hand carried the DICOM images to the Breast Center team at BIDMC.
On December 13 she had an ultrasound guided biopsy which yielded the diagnosis – invasive ductal carcinoma, grade 3.
There isn’t a country on this planet where there isn’t someone dreaming of curing cancer. What if there was something even more spectacular than curing cancer? What if you could stop cancer right in its tracks and eliminate its existence. Prevent it. Squash it before it starts.
Vincent Tuohy, PhD, an immunologist at Cleveland Clinic, may be on a path toward living this dream. This month at our hospital’s quarterly meeting, Tuohy was awarded Cleveland Clinic’s F. Mason Sones Award for 2010 Innovator of the Year for his recent breakthrough that may one day prevent breast cancer and perhaps revolutionize our approach to fighting all cancers.
Tuohy has spent the past eight years working to create a vaccine to prevent breast cancer. He and his team have found that vaccination with the protein α-lactalbumin prevents breast cancer in mice. His results were published in Nature Medicine, one of the most respected science journals, last summer.
The study yielded dramatic results. A group of mice that were at high risk to develop cancer according to their genetic profile was selected. Half of the mice were given the vaccine and half were not. All the ones given the vaccine did not develop breast cancer. All the ones not given the vaccine developed breast cancer. Yes, these are mice, and human trials are yet to begin. It may be ten years before we have a finished product, but such overwhelming results are promising and exciting.Continue reading…