How Much Money is a Cancer Patient’s Life Worth?

Question: Should MediCare Spend $90,000 for Chemotherapy for an 80 Year Old Prostate Cancer Patient?


San Francisco radio talk show host, Gene Burns, says

“No! Spending $90,000 for an 80 year old patient, whose cure is not guaranteed, is not a wise use of the taxpayers’ money.”

Cancer patient and advocate, Gabriella Graham, says

“Yes! If the patient is willing to accept chemotherapy, then, by all means, allow him to receive it, with MediCare picking up the tab. He’s paid taxes all his life and may very possibly have his life extended, as a productive citizen, through chemotherapy. Who says an 80 year old patient is not viable?”

Gabriella’s argument:

“I am an incurable cancer patient, who has survived during the past 12 years, with an estimated $1.75 million of medical care. Approximately 80% of my medical care has been paid for my MediCare, while I have paid the balance, out of pocket.

This care has consisted of six very challenging (yes, grueling!) palliative surgeries and 2.5 years of experimental chemotherapy. There has never been any guarantee that I would be cured; my particular case is considered incurable.

Yet, through the Grace of God, and the skill of my amazing surgical oncologists, my life has been extended by more than a decade! I have greatly outlived my original 18 month prognosis. My prognosis in 1998 was so grim, that I was advised to make my funeral arrangements (which I did, and which are now paid in full, in advance!)

The most expensive surgery, cost more than $335,000, lasted more than 18 hours and took place at the USC Norris Liver Transplant Center in 2000. It's safe to assume that surgery would cost much more today! I had both lobes of the liver, and the pancreas resected, due to cancer metastasis…one decade ago! My choices were surgery or hospice care. I took a calculated risk and chose an expensive surgery. Have ten years of my life been worth $335,000?

I have had three more surgeries and "experimental" chemotherapy since then. My tumor markers (lab tests) were checked last week, confirming that my cancer continues to grow.

During the past 12 years that I have been living as an incurable cancer patient, I have been referred to hospice care at least four times. Each time, after much consideration, I have opted for another very challenging surgery and experimental chemo.

Additionally, during that same time period, I have used my "bonus time" here on earth to develop an international volunteer program assisting other "incurable" cancer patients in 47 countries.

Our youngest patient in our volunteer program, passed away within one year of his diagnosis; he was only 19.

Our most senior patient (who was diagnosed fifteen years ago and who is also “incurable” like me) is now a vibrant 91 years of age. She is not cancer free, yet she remains a very active participant in our volunteer program!

Yes, a great deal of money has been spent on our medical care, but I believe, as do the thousands of families that I worked with since 1998, that the money spent on our medical care has been worth every penny!

If we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars keeping preemies alive in NIC units, then why not spend $90,000 for a senior who has likely contributed much to society, and who could very possibly live many more years?

"Incurable" cancer patients are more than a statistic. We are individuals. Each case is unique.

Cancer treatment is changing rapidly. By the time statistics are published, they are out of date.

We all have hope for the future, regardless of the cost in dollars, regardless of our age, regardless of the "statistics!"

Give this “senior” patient a chance!



Articles published in PMP Pals and on www.pmppals.org are written from the perspective of patients and their family caregivers and are not intended to substitute for licensed, professional medical or legal advice. Consult with your own healthcare professional regarding your specific needs. Copyright © 2010 by Gabriella Graham/PMP Pals’ Network. All rights reserved.