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Tammy Pixler: ‘One-stop shopping’ for cancer patients

Maryland lawmakers need to make a change for cancer patients. And they need to make it now.

A little more than a year ago, my 83-year-old mother was diagnosed with lung cancer – a finding that shook us to the core. While at the hospital, my mom began grueling radiation and chemotherapy treatments. As we were set to return to the comfort of home, however, we were informed that she would no longer be able to receive both treatments in the same place.  We would continue to return to the hospital for radiation, but we had to go to an entirely different office for chemotherapy and oncology consultation.

Astonishingly, my mother cannot receive the full range of necessary cancer care services outside of a hospital – an impersonal environment we associate with emergencies – because of state laws that prevent independent physicians from integrating medical oncology and radiation therapy services in a single office. Even more astonishingly, these laws exist as they do exclusively in the state of Maryland.

Because of these regulations, patients struggle every day to access care in a preferred setting amid the already-difficult battle against an indiscriminate disease. For that reason, I testified before our state lawmakers in previous legislative sessions, supporting bills to study the integration of cancer care services in community settings across the state.

Our family would much prefer ‘one-stop shopping’ at a facility of our choice outside a hospital setting, and our state’s legislators can make it a reality.

Having one unified care team could have made a world of difference for my mother. Each treatment location has different protocols, systems and processes. For example, both sites were taking her blood weekly, one from my mom’s arm (causing bruising) and the other from the port in her chest. We stopped this redundancy and asked them to share results. We should not have to be burdened with managing communications between the two locations.

Moreover, having two physicians generates unsafe confusion. My mom had situations where she experienced serious pain. Once, while she had an early morning radiation appointment, we were unsure whether the radiologist could address the problem or an oncologist was needed. When a doctor finally called, we were instructed to seek immediate attention at the oncologist’s office. My mom then had to travel to the hospital for radiation after her medical issue was addressed. This situation exemplifies the importance of having cancer services in one place.

Ultimately, cancer treatment is taxing on patients and caregivers. Driving hours to treatment, coping with side-effects, filling prescriptions, making meals, and taking care of the rest of the family becomes all-consuming. Yet these are burdens we bear to save our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

Cancer touches us all and it’s time that legislators either expanded treatment options for those seeking integrated, community-based cancer care or allowed a pilot program through which our community oncology providers have the opportunity to prove the advantages they can provide to their patients through integrated cancer centers. H.B. 1053 in Annapolis this session will change the lives of perhaps millions of patients like my mother – and hopefully, survivors – yet to come.

Tammy Pixler