Cancer Care Without Borders

October 30, 2012
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As you may know, I have been living in Barcelona, Spain since June in an effort to help me, my wife, and teenage son get a heavy dose of being “citizens of the world.” We’re loving it because we found our thinking to be too insulated living on an island next to Seattle.

As you may know, I have been living in Barcelona, Spain since June in an effort to help me, my wife, and teenage son get a heavy dose of being “citizens of the world.” We’re loving it because we found our thinking to be too insulated living on an island next to Seattle. Now, as we meet new people from many countries, attend international conferences, and just pay attention we are, as we hoped, broadening our perspectives. One area of discussion with patient-advocates here is how does a cancer patient get the very best care no matter where they live? Remember, this is in a setting now where new drugs, and new drug combinations are coming out or being studied that enable more people diagnosed with cancer to live longer and live better. The latest example was featured in our interview with Dr. Georgina Long about combination therapy for advanced melanoma.

Here in Europe, not withstanding some heavy-duty economic issues, people are seeing themselves as citizens of a much larger area than just their own country. And there is legislation under consideration to enable a cancer patient from one country to go to a specialty center for their cancer, even if it is across a border. This won’t happen today or tomorrow, but what IS happening is advocates are urging people to take a greater role in their care and do their best to push for care where the doctors are truly knowledgable in their condition. That’s the theme of our just posted interview with Markus Wartenberg. His message is just like what we’ve been saying in the U.S. – not all doctors are good at all areas of medicine, not all cancer doctors are the best  or have all the options for your specific type, and YOU need to do your research and go the extra mile to get what’s best for you.

Recently, I’ve been reading many posts on the various cancer communities on acor.org. I am always saddened by the number of people who post as they realize their doctor has put them on the wrong or outdated treatment, or failed to perform a basic test, or not tell them about an exciting new clinical trial. Other patients, who are in the know, try to remedy things, but some of the damage has already been done. Here in Europe, the idea of widely known speciality centers with high level expertise to treat a patient right from the start is very attractive. But it will take awhile to get there. Will government A pay for travel to the center run by government B? Will better care be cheaper – even if it’s life saving or life extending – for all concerned?

Just as I traveled from Seattle to Houston to get the most up-to-date care for leukemia, I think patients will travel from Croatia to Germany to get what’s right for them and, hopefully, their health system will support them in this. It’s part of us getting to the point where not only does information know no borders, as we are doing right here, but care knows no borders too. It’s a goal we need to aggressively work towards and it starts with patients advocating for themselves.

I welcome your comments and, as always, wish you and your family the best of health!