Opinion | Tony Jones: A cautionary cancer screening tale | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Tony Jones: A cautionary cancer screening tale

I read in the Summit Daily recently that the Summit Care Clinic was offering affordable or free cancer screenings for qualified female patients. According to that article, over 300 women have taken advantage of these exams in the last year, thanks to grants from the federal government via the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for those who may not be able to afford such services. I highly encourage folks to take advantage of such offerings if they can. In today’s column I offer a cautionary tale to readers, because whether you feel like you need such services or not, taking advantage of them could save your life.

Until four years ago, my wife was a smoker, but like many smokers, she was healthy and not showing any outward signs of health issues despite her decades long smoking habit. Then one day, during a routine annual medical exam, the physician’s assistant she was working with, an affable fellow whom she liked a lot, mentioned casually that she should consider getting a preventative CT scan of her lungs given her smoking history. 

We spent some time considering whether to have the scan done or not. Even though the procedure was mostly covered by her insurance we had some concerns with proceeding with the recommendation. While my wife’s primary concern was fear of what might be discovered, given her general good health, I was more concerned about false positives and the anxiety and stress they could bring. False positives were an issue that I’d read about and about which I was genuinely concerned. Between that and the belief that cancer was something that only struck others — it couldn’t possibly happen to us — I was in a state of denial.

In the end we decided to go forward with the scan and as you can probably guess by now, that scan showed something: a spot in her right lung. Hearing that news, I experienced the definition of a “sinking feeling”. It felt as if my insides had just sunk to my toes, there was a buzzing in my ears and a hollowness in my chest — and that was me. You can imagine how much worse it was for my wife. For a brief period after hearing this news, ironically, I held onto the hope that it was in fact a false positive. A follow up scan confirmed our worse fears however, and overnight our world turned upside down.

Shortly thereafter, a lobectomy was successfully performed on my wife and we were given the good news that the lung cancer was in its early stages and the lobectomy had removed all of it. She was in essence cured. We’re currently coming up on the fifth year since that diagnosis and have endured biannual, now annual, scans to ensure no recurrence of that tumor. Thankfully, she remains cancer free. 

Had she not gotten that preventative scan it’s likely that we would be now dealing with lung cancer treatments and the prognosis for her long-term health would not be great. But thankfully, two things converged to produce a positive outcome: a PA that cared and had the foresight to recommend the scan, and my wife having an insurance plan that made getting that scan affordable for us.

This story illustrates how critical it is for people to have access to preventative screens like what the Summit Care Clinic is offering. Not only can it save lives, but it can save money as well, as treating cancer early, before it has spread, is far less costly than the care necessary once it has metastasized. 

Our governments, state and federal, should strive to provide more access to these services through programs like what the clinic is offering. I believe that health care is a human right, not a privilege that should be rationed out only to people with enough money to buy it on their own or have employer sponsored health care. As such, I support efforts like the Affordable Care Act which mandates that insurance policies on their marketplace provide free preventative services. We must continue such efforts to make preventative health care more affordable. These efforts are far from perfect and only incremental in scope, but they are real progress towards affordable universal health care in the U.S.

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