The battle against cancer

Ellen Schafer, Bismarck

An estimated 3,730 people will hear the words “You have cancer” this year in North Dakota. Unfortunately, too many of those patients will suffer needlessly as their doctors concentrate on treating their disease. Cancer patients deserve access to team-based care that treats the whole patient, not just their cancer.

As a cancer caregiver, I’ve experienced first-hand how the mental and physical side effects of treatment can take a toll on one’s quality of life. As doctors focus on the cancer treatment itself, comfort and concerns such as pain, nausea, shortness of breath and anxiety are frequently overlooked.

That’s where palliative care can help a growing field of specialized medical care that improves the quality of life of patients and their families by focusing on symptoms of treatment for a serious disease such as cancer. Palliative care is a big change in health care delivery, and it works in favor of the patient. Yet, thousands of patients who are suffering from the side effects of treatment have no idea that palliative care is available to them and can help them relieve their symptoms and focus on getting well.

While North Dakota’s members of Congress were in the state last week, I encouraged each of them to help improve the lives of cancer patients by making treatment of pain and other symptoms standard practice during the course of care. I asked Representative Cramer to co-sponsor H.R. 1666 and H.R. 1339, the palliative care legislation endorsed by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Senators Hoeven and Heitkamp can do their part by joining the growing number of co-sponsors of S.641, the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act, which is also supported by ACS CAN. These proposals give patients more control, makes sure that their symptoms are properly managed and provides better coordination between their doctors.

Cancer will touch everyone in his or her lifetime. Our lawmakers must take this opportunity to expand access to palliative care so patients and their families can have that extra layer of support when they need it most.