Monday, April 2, 2012

Let the Treatment Games Begin

One of the biggest pop culture events of the past week has been the movie Hunger Games.  I haven't seen it yet, but I did read the book last week out of curiosity.  The underlying premise of the book is that the country of Panem (formerly the United States until a civil war) now has almost absolute control of its citizens, resulting in dystopia.  It has led to many discussions in the social media world about how close we could actually be to allowing something like that to happen in real life.  Of course, much of it was scare tactic talk, but then I come across this story, and it has really gotten me to thinking.

Jacob Stieler is a 10 year old from Michigan who was treated for cancer last year.  After his initial courses of chemo and subsequent surgery to remove the cancerous areas, he and his family decided that he would not continue with additional chemotherapy.  This was after he gotten 2 PET scans showing no evidence of cancer.  The chemo was very tough, and they decided to keep up with regular screening, but not continue with the standard protocol unless the cancer returned.

I get this.  I would have gotten it even before my own child was diagnosed with cancer, but I totally get it now.  Chemo has its uses, but the side effects are very painful and scary and dangerous.  I am looking at my son right now who just happens to be sleeping in his hospital bed, but it is a fitful sleep, and when he wakes up he could be nauseated or in pain or have a new mouth sore, or he could just be grumpy.  The standard protocol of care (a fancy medical term) says that we will continue to do this for months, even after his surgery in a month and if he gets an all clear from his PET scan.  We have already been told that stopping treatment is not an option.  This was the day we checked in for the first chemo, and I just kept my mouth shut, because we were already resigned to chemo anyway, and it wasn't a philosophical battle I was willing to fight.  Not at that point, anyway.

Anyway, back to Jacob.  When his parents decided not to continue with treatment, even after the 'all clear' that parents pray for from the moment of diagnosis, they were turned over to their state Department of Human Services for child neglect, and have been repeatedly investigated and threatened to have Jacob removed from their home for failure to treat.  WHAT?!  I was an ER social worker back in the day--the one they called in the middle of the night to assess spiral fractures and cigarette burns and drunk 2 years olds.  THAT was legitimate.  THAT was abuse.  But this?  Attempting to force a family into medical treatment of any kind against their wishes under the threat of removal of their children from their home because they have decided that a cancer free kid doesn't need more poison?  THAT seems like abuse to me.

If the government agencies are so gungho about forcing medical treatment on unwilling participants, then maybe cancer families should get together and come up with our own version of Hunger Games. Some type of reality show where all the folks who insist on mandating treatment protocols and behaviors have to first participate in their own reality show.  Anyone who would sign off on forcing a person to receive chemo or radiation or any other such 'treatment' against their will would first have to survive the Treatment Games.  In this version, people who have either gone through cancer (or their family members) would be able to choose any and all medical procedures for the participants to experience.  They could have all manner of food and drinks available at any time, but they probably would not want them.  Just one of those pesky side effects of cancer treatment.  Any time they start to nod off, an IV would start beeping, and a nurse may or may not come in a timely manner.  Not that it matters--it will just go off a few minutes later anyway.

I guess this is just wishful thinking.  No one in their right minds would submit to that kind of torture.  I mean, it just doesn't make sense to give chemo treatments to people who don't have cancer, now does it?  Not even if they are given with the best of intentions, right?

And that is my point exactly.

Jacob's case is still unresolved.  I found out about his story and have been following it on Facebook (the page is called Hope for Jacob).  I am sure they would appreciate some encouragement if you get the chance and feel so inclined.

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