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Navigating Truth in Healthcare—A Personal Journey, Part 1 of 2

As a gig worker or freelancer, you're accustomed to navigating a world of flexibility and independence. But when it comes to your health, the pathways aren't always so clear. Join us as we look deeper into a critical but often overlooked aspect—the influence of pharmaceutical on our healthcare providers. To start this series, I need to share a personal story that underlines the importance of being armed with all available information when making medical decisions.

Brandon, received a diagnosis of stage III colorectal cancer, almost eighteen months ago. The new oncologist we were referred to recommended the standard treatment: a combination of surgery, radiation then chemotherapy. However, his treatment began with chemotherapy, with the assumption it would shrink the tumor, which at the time made sense. There was no gene or stain testing on the tumor at this point. Following the initial round of chemo, a follow-up test revealed the cancer had metastasized into his liver and lymph nodes. The subsequent radiation made surgery no longer an option. Brandon suffered severe sickness and relentless nausea due to these toxic drugs - often not getting out of bed for days and at one point was in the hospital for a week with something called Sweet Syndrome -- an allergic reaction to yup, chemo. Cut to a year later, Brandon's cancer progressed to late stage IV, spreading now to his lungs. It was at this juncture that his oncologist, to our dismay, offered no viable treatment options apart from more (expletive) chemotherapy. More of the toxic drug that made his brain foggy, literally exhausted beyond anything I had ever seen and only made his tumors spread? It felt disconnected and the antithesis of what we believed to be the priority—his life and well-being. We began the search for another option.

After a rabbit hole on the internet one evening I came upon Open Payments Data and I was shocked. Here is a legitimate .gov resource which publishes payment information (amount, reason, year, company, etc...) made by drug and medical device companies to healthcare providers. It was an amazing tool of transparency--like the curtain of veiled secrecy had been pulled--allowing public access to see the specific financial ties between these two incredibly connected groups.

We discovered our oncologist received close to $70,000 from the very company that she prescribed the chemotherapy for Brandon. This of course shattered our faith in healthcare and as plainly was the words in black and white on the screen and finally our questions about her detachment were answered. It also blew apart our beliefs' that doctors prioritize patients' health and well-being over anything else. That the Hippocratic oath that they too meant anything.

Further research uncovered doctors in the field taking, in addition to their salaries, substantial payouts, some up to $350,000 annually. These revelations highlighted the challenges surrounding transparency, financial incentives, and ethical standards within our healthcare system, which we will discuss in subsequent posts.

This journey led Brandon to an integrative treatment facility in Phoenix, known for its independence from big pharma affiliations and it's different modalities in cancer treatment. One of the first things they did was something our first oncologist never did--a gene and stain test on the initial biopsy. The results revealed that Brandon would not respond well to the specific type of chemotherapy prescribed, which had previously exacerbated his condition and landed him in the hospital. What's even more frustrating is this pattern extends to approximately 15% of the cancer population. Considering the anticipated rise in the number of individuals requiring chemotherapy—expected to reach twenty million by 2030—this implies that three million people might avoid the exhaustive and nauseating nature of chemotherapy with a simple additional test on the standard biopsy already taken as the standard operating procedure (SOP).

This eye-opening journey shed light on the depth of financial and often questionable influences shaping medical decisions. These revelations show that doctors and pharma companies potentially compromise patients' well-being for a few dollars. It was a disheartening realization, as we navigated the complex intersection of healthcare, financial incentives, and patient care. So what do we do with this new information?


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