You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Commentary: How I’m still alive to talk about surviving cancer


The most astounding part of my cancer story might be that I’m still alive to tell it.

For nearly 10 years, doctors misdiagnosed my persistent jaw pain and trismus as temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMJ. Nerve damage to the side of my face was deemed a pinched nerve. Sadly, I believed the doctors and learned to live with the pain. That is, until I woke up one evening with such excruciating, stabbing pain in my face that I finally became my own advocate.

An immediate appointment with a neurologist led to an MRI and subsequent biopsy. The results came back quickly and were as severe as my physical discomfort: I had Stage IV adenoid cystic carcinoma, an extremely rare head and neck cancer that affects roughly 1,600 people in the U.S. each year.

With my shocking diagnosis, I received a rapid education in the realities of my cancer. The slow-growing, plum-sized tumor completely invaded my maxillary sinus and everything in its way. It was advanced. It was inoperable. Traditional radiation and chemotherapy had proven ineffective in similar cases. Surgery was not an option.

WE SAY…: Read the latest opinions from the Statesman’s editorial board.

Although my type of inoperable tumor was rare, my situation was not. Each year, countless Americans are diagnosed with cancer and given poor prognosis for survival. Traditional radiation therapy can destroy crucial, surrounding structures. Resulting side effects can be devastating. Blindness, deafness, inability to swallow and secondary cancers are a few. Not to mention the long term costs associated with these side effects which further burden both patients and insurers.

I am not the first patient to feel sheer terror upon learning that I have Stage IV cancer. But I hope that I am one of a growing number who – with access to the most appropriate and effective treatment for my diagnosis – will survive, thanks to a treatment option not routinely covered by major insurers.

My diagnosis, as grim as it was, came with a single ray of hope. My faith was strengthened and I was led to MD Anderson Cancer Center, where my medical team explained that proton therapy had offered limited success in treating my type of rare cancer. Though it might not cure me, it would hopefully shrink the tumor enough so I could survive and live a more comfortable life — God willing.

Though proton radiation can target and treat some inoperable tumors like mine, it has also been successful treating other head and neck cancers, prostate cancer, certain breast cancers and childhood cancers. It is noninvasive and completely painless. While conventional radiation functions like a bullet – delivering high-velocity energy that damages the tumor and anything in its path – protons release their energy when they reach the tumor itself and damage only DNA inside the tumor while sparing the surrounding healthy tissues.

Under the expert care of my physicians at MD Anderson — and thanks to our employers’ self-funded insurance policy — I began proton treatment without delay. Miraculously, today I am cancer free. Proton therapy killed a cancer that should have killed me. A few residual-yet-bearable side effects are a small price to pay for survival.

BE THE FIRST TO KNOW: When big news breaks, we send Breaking News emails. Click to sign up.

Though my experience was filled with hope, countless other patients’ stories are filled with insurance denials and barriers as a result of limited insurance coverage for proton therapy — because insurers don’t deem it a “medical necessity.” Semantics are being used at the patients’ expense.

My story could have ended much differently. I am alive today to tell my story and advocate for others thanks to the quality care I received and lots of prayers. Without insurance coverage for my treatment, there’s no telling the physical, emotional and financial burdens my family could have faced.

No one’s story should come to an end because a proven, FDA-approved treatment was denied by insurers. I hope my story will help inspire health insurance companies and lawmakers to expand proton therapy coverage when it’s the best treatment option for cancer patients who may have no other options for survival. Lives depend on it. Mine did.

McBurney is a cancer survivor from Lakeway and patient advocate for the Alliance for Proton Therapy Access.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Legislature must do more about surprise medical bills
Commentary: Legislature must do more about surprise medical bills

Is there anything more emblematic of our troubled health care system than a patient receiving a “surprise bill” in the mail after receiving emergency care? The most egregious form of surprise medical bills, also known as balance bills, happen when an out-of-network provider bills a patient despite having delivered care at an in-network...
Two Views: Abbott’s pick-up sticks play politics with a special session
Two Views: Abbott’s pick-up sticks play politics with a special session

With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, the American poet and hero killed in World War I, we might begin a look at the upcoming special session of the Texas Legislature by rudely rewriting a bit of Kilmer’s most famous poem: Laws are made by fools like thee But only God can make a tree. Only the governor can set agenda items for a special session &mdash...
Two Views: Special session offers opportunity for conservative reforms
Two Views: Special session offers opportunity for conservative reforms

There’s a scene in the 1984 film, “Romancing the Stone,” when Kathleen Turner’s character, whose sister has been kidnapped and held for ransom until she delivers a treasure map, says to her hero, “That map is my sister’s life.” Jack T. Colton, played by Michael Douglas, replies, “Like hell it is. Whatever&rsquo...
Letters to the editor: June 26, 2017
Letters to the editor: June 26, 2017

Re: June 20 article, “Already pinched, Texas parks not getting promised state money.” Why am I not surprised! Texas lawmakers have once again siphoned off these state park funds for other purposes, including balancing the state budget. Enough already! The state parks have millions of dollars of backlogged maintenance of parks, facilities...
Commentary: On school bonds, it’s time to go in for all of Austin
Commentary: On school bonds, it’s time to go in for all of Austin

When your school district includes 130 buildings with an average age of 46 years, major renovations will be in order. It is time for Austin to go all in for a school bond that declares our commitment to education across the whole city. The current proposed bond package serves some areas well, neglects others, and doesn’t do enough to address...
More Stories