If, like me, you’re the owner of an advanced (Stage III or Stage IV) cancer that is currently in remission, the good news is that the disease is currently being held at bay, and we are able to get on with our lives. But the threat of recurrence always looms over us, a phenomenon that many cancer survivors call “the overhang.”
For those of us living under the overhang, one crucial strategy–along with paying attention to diet and exercise–is to minimize unneeded stress in our lives. We have an intuitive sense that excessive stress could too easily trigger our cancer’s return.
Although there have been studies that demonstrate links between cancer and stress, the medical community often discounts the role of stress. In the words of one journal article, “there is no evidence indicating a causal relationship between stress and cancer recurrence.” (At least the authors were willing to admit, “attending to the reduction in a cancer survivor’s stress response can improve emotional well-being and quality of life.”)
However, a recent study has confirmed that stress may indeed contribute to recurrence and even drive cancer metastasis.
A “master control gene,” called ATF3, found in immune system cells, is “turned on” to attack cancer cells—at least initially. However, researchers unexpectedly discovered that, by a process not yet fully understood, breast cancer cells can eventually hijack ATF3 and use it as a means to escape the tumor and spread through the body.
As one headline describing this study put it, “stress fuels cancer spread by triggering master gene.” Cancer survivors’ intuitions that reducing stress may stave off recurrence turns out to be well-founded.
So, what do stress and the overhang have to do with Obamacare? Let’s assume that, the program’s botched rollout notwithstanding, Obamacare accomplishes its goal of reengineering the US healthcare delivery system. A government program that deliberately creates a tectonic shift in one sixth of the US economy creates numerous consequences: many intended, but doubtless many more unintended.
Unforeseen consequences have a habit of negatively affecting people’s lives–including cancer survivors–creating additional stress for those of us living under the overhang.
Case in point: in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, cancer survivor Edie Sundby described how new regulations required by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare’s formal name) caused her insurer, United Healthcare, to cease selling individual health policies in California, leaving her only the option of an inferior plan sold on the Obamacare-mandated “California Covered” insurance exchange. Through no action of her own, she found herself blocked from the doctors and treatments she feels to be essential to her survival. The stress this has created saturated every word of her essay.
Edie Sundby’s dilemma got me thinking: “What if the urologist and medical oncologist, who diagnosed me and continue to guide my treatment, are suddenly no longer available to me? What if I am denied the best medicine for my particular situation because it is deemed too expensive by an anonymous bureaucrat? What then?” I’m sure thousands of other cancer survivors living under the overhang had similar thoughts as they read her story.
For those of us already on Medicare, we had assumed we would be isolated from Obamacare’s impact. But as Columbia University Professor of Journalism, Thomas Edsall, states in a recent New York Times op ed, “the Affordable Care Act can be construed as a transfer of benefits from Medicare . . . [which] over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office . . . cuts $455 billion from the Medicare budget in order to help pay for Obamacare.”
What if my doctors say, “sorry, Craig, we can no longer afford to see you under Medicare’s stingy payment terms”?
Worry produces stress. Stress is scientifically linked to cancer recurrence.
Amidst the inoperative websites, cancelled health insurance policies, financial shock, and the unceasing political sturm und drang from Washington and in the media, have politicians considered the ACA’s psychological and emotional impact on the public they ostensibly serve? Have the bureaucrats thought about increased stress on cancer patients like Edie Sundby and thousands of survivors like me as they implement complex and seemingly arbitrary policies and rules?
Like most people my age, I realize life is hard. Having to live under the overhang of recurrence is unfair. Nevertheless, many of us have achieved a level of inner peace by consciously reducing and removing stress from our lives wherever we can.
Just as more stress not of our own making, but which has been generated far too casually and needlessly by our leaders, heads right toward us.
 B.L. Todd, M.C. Moskowitz, A. Ottati, and M. Feuerstein, “Stressors, Stress Response, and Cancer Recurrence: A Systematic Review,” Cancer Nursing (24 April 2013).
 http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265254.php accessed 25 November 2013
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303936904579177930307493584 accessed 25 November 2013 (may not be available to non-subscribers)
 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/20/opinion/edsall-the-obamacare-crisis.html accessed 25 November 2013