In 2019 I went to the doctor after a few months with lower back pain and excessive bleeding. I assumed it was caused by stress as my husband recently had a double lung transplant.
But like so many busy women, my own health fell to the bottom of the task chain. And when I finally got checked out, my life fell into despair.
It turned out that the source of the pain was multiple tumors intertwined with my abdominal tissues. When I was only 50 years old I was told that I had stage four ovarian cancer, that it was inoperable and that if I lived longer than two years I would be a runaway.
It was three.
Thanks to a heroic surgeon, Dr. Whitfield Growdon, and the support of my family and friends, I am one of the lucky ones – and I am now cancer free.
The vast majority of those who find out about their cancer when it’s advanced are not so lucky. In fact, nine out of ten live no more than five years. I fight and pray every day to avoid this fate.
I’ve learned a lot about cancer on my journey back to health.
There are the data points. Every second woman and every third man will develop cancer in their lifetime.
“Incidentally, “cancer” actually encompasses more than 100 different diseases, each with their own characteristics, manifestations, and treatment regimens, but for almost all cancers, it’s better to catch them early – before they’ve spread to other parts of the body.
However, we only have screenings available for five types of cancer. Ovarian cancer is not one of them. The vast majority of cancers are only discovered when the symptoms send someone to the doctor – like in my case.
The result: 70 percent of cancer deaths in this country are due to types for which there are no early detection tools such as mammography, colonoscopy or Pap tests.
Why do 600,000 Americans still die from cancer every year even though we’ve seen incredible advances in oncology treatment? Because too many of us have cancer growing inside us and taking control of our bodies without us knowing it.
And then there’s the experience itself. The brutality of cancer is breathtaking. I’ve had ten surgeries, six chemotherapy treatments, multiple attacks of sepsis, and countless days and nights in the hospital. I was cut open, poked, shoved, put in hospital diapers. I suffered excruciating pain, became physically dependent on other people, and was deprived of my dignity. I was emaciated and bald with no eyelashes. My son, who was six at the time, described me as “a person in a zombie costume”. I’ve had days when I wanted to die.
Because I didn’t, because I had to learn firsthand what I would have rather never understood, I’m here to tell you that I know there is a way to change that.
“It may be some time before new technologies become the standard of care. Here the work of Congress is essential.”
Researchers have been looking for ways to find dozens of types of cancer by detecting the microscopic particles that remain in the blood as cancer grows. Studies have shown that tests using these analyzes not only indicate whether cancer has been detected, but also show doctors where the cancer is located in the body. And the tests are very accurate, allowing doctors to direct their investigations and ultimately make their diagnosis with confidence.
Adding these new tests to our already recommended cancer screening could help avoid the need for extreme and debilitating procedures like I had, and more importantly, save lives.
But under the laws that govern the Medicare program, checkups aren’t timely covered — even if they’re approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
This year Congress can ensure that the latest advances in cancer screening will be available to more Americans so they can catch cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable. We still don’t have a cure for cancer, but there are new blood-based cancer screening tests that can and will drastically reduce late-stage diagnoses and cancer deaths. It’s an option I wish I had before my cancer odyssey began.
It may be some time before new technologies become the standard of care. Here the work of Congress is essential.
Without action from Congress, these blood tests are likely to remain in bureaucratic limbo for years while older Americans, those most prone to cancer, die from a disease that could have been detected sooner.
Congress should pass the Medicare Multi-Cancer Early Detection Screening Coverage Act to make these screening tools readily available. (More than 235 bipartisan congressmen already support the legislation.)
When it comes to the additional costs of the Medicare program, it’s important to note that studies have shown that if we diagnose cancer early and minimize extensive medical interventions — how they are required to save my life.
These blood-based screenings are both a key pillar of President Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot program and on the agenda of the House Republicans’ Healthy Futures Task Force.
I wake up every morning very grateful to be a survivor, but I am also aware of the many others whose lives ended shortly after their late-stage cancer diagnosis. Congress should not waste the opportunity to deal a blow to this terrible disease.
Susanna Quinn is a cancer survivor, entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist. She is a board member of the Prevent Cancer Foundation.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/early-cancer-screening-saves-lives-congress-needs-to-act?source=articles&via=rss Early cancer detection saves lives. Congress must act.