Quantcast

Americans are treated and overtreated to death

Marilynn Marchione | 6/29/2010, 7:27 p.m.

“It’s amazing how little benefit those studies show,” Storey said, referring to research on the new drugs.

Dan Waeger tried just about all of them. A nonsmoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 22, and pursued treatment after treatment before dying nearly four years later, in March 2009.

“He decided if there were odds to be beat, he was going to beat the odds,” said his boss, Ellen Stovall, then-president of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, where Waeger worked as a fundraiser and development manager.

“He received just about every experimental new drug for lung cancer that I’m aware of in his last two years of life. He would get a treatment on a Friday afternoon, be sick all weekend and come to work on Monday,” she recalled.

“He had these horrific rashes. He would get these horrible coughs that were not just the lung cancer. The treatments were making him cough up blood, just horrific side effects — vertigo, numbness, tingling in his hands and feet. He suffered.”

Waeger’s fiancée, Meg Rodgers, said they worried about exceeding the lifetime limits on his insurance, since the care was so expensive.

“I think every time he got a treatment, it was $10,000,” though he paid only a $10 copay, she said.

Yet it was clearly worth any price to him — he died a week before they were to be married, after receiving home hospice care for only two weeks.

“I honestly believe he would have done anything he could to live one more day,” Rodgers said.

Some health policy groups say cancer patients, as well as people with failing hearts or terminal dementia, should get better end-of-life counseling. Last year, a plan that would have let Medicare pay for doctors to talk about things like living wills was labeled “death panels” and was dropped.

Ultimately, how patients and their families make the journey is a matter of personal choice — and there are resources to help them, Stovall said.

“I’ve heard a lot of people over the years say what they would do if they had cancer until it is them. And then they will cling to even the smallest glimmer that something will help,” she said.

“Cancer that can’t be cured is often called daunting but not hopeless. So that’s what patients hear. Hope is the last thing to go. People don’t give that up easily.”

AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago contributed to this story.