Dr. Augusto Mesia, a Filipino-American pathologist in Astoria New York shares his thoughts on Sen. Edward Kennedy who has malignant glioma, a brain tumor that is “treatable but not curable.” A Kennedy will certainly get the best treatment regimen in the world. A single tumor-contracting drug that costs $100,000 a year is a drop in the bucket, but heartbreak stuff for the 46 million Americans who do not have health insurance and for the people in countries less prosperous than America. Dr. Mesia himself battles a tough, lingering Auto-Immune Hemolytic Anemia.
When Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, Georgia of cerebral hemorrhage in 1945, many Americans were caught by surprise. In those days people usually didn’t pry on the lives of public figures as they do now. The large majority of Americans didn’t know that in the White House, the US president had been sick for a while, an aftermath of years of vigorous work and smoking while he suffered from leg paralysis, thought to be the effect of poliomyelitis.
Time has changed since the death of FDR. Today, the world seems to insist in knowing what goes on in the lives of famous personalities. And people are more willing than ever before, to share important bad news. This new wave of frankness somehow liberates the burdened soul when someone gets sick.
Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti contracted pancreatic cancer and the public knew of its grim implications months before he died. Actor Patrick Swayze had love, support and prayers when he announced having the same disease. Prior to chemotherapy, Pres. Cory Aquino received a deluge of “get well” wishes when she was reported to have colonic cancer. Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy had Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) doctors saying that he has a malignant brain tumor growing in his left parietal lobe, the part of the cerebral hemisphere that controls complex functions like movement and language.
Such hideous reports of ill health have been generally met with sadness and concern by the public. Theories abound. Conjectures on the clinical course, lethality, and dreaded complications of disease diffuse into the public psyche like prismatic light rays in a clairvoyant’s eye.
In Kennedy’s case, there are remarkable expressions of concern. Setting aside differences, his friends, political adversaries and even people unknown to him, are like a “family” in their wish for his full recovery. The Kennedy clan, not stranger to tragedies which repeatedly rocked the family, is fully supportive as the senator girds for his personal battle with cancer.
Many recognize Kennedy’s significant contributions to public service. For almost five decades, as a secular libertarian, the senator advocates for controversial pro-choice in abortion and roots for same sex marriage. He displays a patriarchal leadership among Democrats after his brothers Pres. John F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the feuding candidates in his party for this fall’s presidential election are united in their support for the ailing senator. Sending his get well wish, President George W. Bush said,
“Laura and I are concerned to learn of our friend Senator Kennedy’s diagnosis. Ted Kennedy is a man of tremendous courage, remarkable strength and powerful spirit. Our thoughts are with Senator Kennedy and his family during this difficult period. We join our fellow Americans in praying for his full recovery.” (AP, 05/21/08, Johnson,G.)
Sifting through more lab tests done on Kennedy, the Boston doctors mull on the right approach to proceed with treatment. In spite of the medical sophistication at their disposal, the doctors admit that the brain tumor (labeled by pathologists as malignant glioma,) is formidable, even for someone so influential like the senator. There’s no doubt however that he’ll get the best medical care the world can offer and the success in fighting the disease will depend on some factors that aren’t in the usual sphere of the doctors’ control—- tumor type, size, pathologic grade, location, patient age, and response to treatment.
Commenting on Kennedy’s condition, Dr. Suriya Jeyapalan, a neuro-oncologist of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Massachusetts remarked,
“It’s treatable but not curable. You can put it into remission for a while but it’s not a curable tumor.” (AP 05/21.08, Johnson,G.)
Dr. Jeyapalan has a point. In recent years, doctors have gained expansive knowledge to extend life and improve survival among those who suffer vicious forms of cancers. As old treatments are refined and drugs rediscovered, there’s increasing precision in surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (whichever treatment combination applies.)
Veering away from the old “hit or miss” cancer therapies, there are smart target drugs which interfere on genes to frustrate the rapid divisions of malignant cells. There are designer medicines to suppress blood vessel proliferations which sustain tumor growth or cause the spontaneous death of wayward abnormal cells.
Yet, cancer regimens aren’t all magic silver bullets. Success isn’t guaranteed and treatments can be quite expensive. For example, Avastin, an anticancer medicine which blocks vascular growth in tumors may have a tag price of nearly $100,000 per year, per patient. Whatever medicines Kennedy will receive in his own treatment, he has the advantage of having the best healthcare on his fingertips—unlike those who can’t afford it.
The number of Americans who doesn’t have good access to healthcare is huge. Forty-six (46) million people in USA do not have any medical insurance coverage. The staggering number is half the entire Filipino population. Considering America has affluence, inventiveness and grit, it boggles the mind why this happens.
The United States hasn’t come up with a solution to stop the steep rise of prescription medicines’ costs. There’s hemorrhaging of the government-sponsored Medicare and Medicaid programs whose budget could run out before the baby boomers die, rendering the system bankrupt. It’s not surprising therefore that illness remains a fearsome foe in the American heartland.
With these, it seems there’s no need to see a poor country outside America to know the increasing healthcare problems the world faces. Even the planet’s wealthiest country has people who’re poor and can’t afford healthcare. These people feel panicky when bad news like Kennedy’s cancer hit the headlines. They’re scared thinking sickness can be their own bedfellow— a stalking death sentence which threatens, a pathway which gives way to debts, a time which inspires supplications for a miracle.
As worrisome as the lack of healthcare which distresses the United States, the world sends a heartfelt get-well wish for Sen. Edward Kennedy. At the hospital in Boston, workers and family members applaud for his complete recovery and survival. Even the family dogs Sunny and Splash meet him wagging their tails to send in the same message of hope. ==0==