By Chris Lewis
As a global community we can find most things we need online nowadays.
From food to furniture and everything in between, there’s very little we can’t buy and sell with ease.
But what happens when we start shopping online for healthcare? In particular, for cancer treatment.
I’ve been living with cancer for the past decade, which gives me a unique perspective on complex cancer care in the UK.
Back in 2007 I was diagnosed with a rare form called mantle cell lymphoma and given just six months to live.
I’m still here now, which is testament to the incredible treatment I have received from the doctors and nurses of the NHS. But I can still see the faults of the over-stretched and under-resourced system.
It’s with this in mind that it comes as little surprise more and more people are opting for private cancer treatment abroad.
Whether through private funds or Crowdfunding campaigns, there’s a growing number of people who decide their best chance of a ‘cure’ rests in the hands of specialists overseas.
I’m no oncologist, and I can’t begin to give advice on the best courses of treatment for people.
But in 10 years of sitting in waiting rooms and talking to people I have become an expert in terms of the impact various treatments have on the lives of patients.
In my view we need to drastically change the ‘one size fits all approach’ to cancer treatment.
I recently visited the Proton Therapy Centre in Prague, Czech Republic, which many may remember from the case of Ashya King, who was taken there for state-of-the-art brain tumour treatment by his parents in 2014.
They fled Southampton General Hospital against the wishes of Ashya’s doctors because they were concerned chemotherapy and radiotherapy would leave him permanently brain damaged.
They were briefly jailed in Madrid.
Four years later, and Ashya is still in remission.
When I visited the Proton Therapy Center I met two men from the UK who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
They had been offered either radical surgery to remove the prostate or radiotherapy, which both carry a risk of incontinence and loss of sexual function.
They decided they didn’t like either option, and found the centre by searching the internet.
They had not been told about it by their doctors in the UK, but weighed up their options and decided it was right for them, so privately funded treatment in Prague costing tens of thousands of pounds.
In my view they should have been told about this treatment, even though it’s not currently on offer in the UK on the NHS.
Yes, we have proton therapy in the UK but the hospitals are in their really early days. This has been a treatment of choice across the world for many years.
Even the health insurance companies in these countries understand that it is cheaper to give the better treatment first, and reduce the late effects visits.
For the person who is ill it means no more endless visits with problems from surgery or basic radiotherapy. Importantly, it gives them a better quality of life. I’d be there tomorrow if I needed it.
What I’m saying is just because we don’t offer it doesn’t mean it’s not right for the patient.
The health service isn’t the only provider of cancer treatment in the world and different treatment methods are not recommended because we don’t have them, not because they don’t exist.
People with complex cancers should know there may be better option for them outside of what is currently offered through the NHS and then it is a matter of circumstance whether you can afford to pay for it or not.
I recently watched the very sad programme about the late Dame Tessa Jowell, who estimated her life was extended by nine months by having treatment in Germany.
I think people should be free to try whatever is at their disposal, especially with incurable diseases.
My treatment over the years has included chemotherapy and two stem cell transplants. I still have monthly check-ups so I’m still in the system.
I really enjoy talking to other people about my experiences and getting their perspectives on things.
I speak about the difficulties in everyday life such as getting travel insurance, taking out loans, and finding work, and try and make my own changes such as setting up a charity called simPal which offers free, pre-paid SIM cards for people living with cancer.
My life has been taken up with cancer but I’m on extra time and I’ve had a lot of it.
Some people have heart attacks and die there and then. I’m lucky I’m in a position where I have the chance to reflect and do things differently.
One of the most important things I have learned is that cancer waits for no man, and we quickly need to rethink our treatment strategy to reflect that.
Chris has been named one of the top 10 cancer bloggers in the UK and travels the world speaking to experts, giving talks, and visiting different centres to see how other countries offer treatment.
For more visit http://www.chris-cancercommunity.com