People of lower socioeconomic status face higher cancer death rates than their counterparts. African American men suffer the highest cancer incidence rate of any racial or ethnic group. But these gaps in cancer care can be addressed through policy. What does the case of Medicaid expansion reveal about cancer disparities in America? And what will it take to close the gap?
At The Atlantic People v. Cancer summit in New York City on November 12, 2019, I had to pleasure to join Yousuf Zafar, Associate Professor of Medicine and Public Policy at Duke Cancer Institute, and writer Olga Khazan from The Atlantic to discuss.
Cancer as a metaphor for racism in the United States
Before our turn in the spotlight, Yousuf and I huddled behind the stage with wireless microphones taped to our cheeks. The warm glow from a backlit projector illuminated bundles of electrical cords at our feet and audio equipment towering around us. We stood still, hypnotized, and clinging to every word of Ibram X. Kendi, acclaimed National Book Award Winner and Director of The Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. On the other side of heavy curtains, Dr. Kendi was sharing his vulnerable, personal cancer story and described how cancer can be seen as a metaphor for racism in the United States. His talk was beautiful. I encourage you to listen.
After Dr. Kendi’s talk, it was our turn to discuss the financial toxicity of cancer, racial disparities in outcomes, and data to generate evidence for equitable healthcare policies. I applaud AtlanticLIVE and The Atlantic for prioritizing these issues.
The summit included exploration of other important topics in modern cancer care. Here are highlights from a few sessions that I really enjoyed.
Redefining Quality of Life
There was a powerful discussion about compassion in the face of mortality and the role of palliative care in a patient’s journey. Kate Bowler, Author of “Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved” and Associate Professor at Duke Divinity School, and Sunita Puri, Author of “That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour” and Medical Director of Palliative Medicine at Keck Hospital and Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Southern California, took to the stage with journalist Jeanne Meserve to discuss how we should redefine quality of life.
Community-Based Cancer Care
Actor Patrick Dempsey, well-known as McDreamy from Gray’s Anatomy, came to tears on stage when talking about grief from his mother’s fight with cancer. He brought the focus back to a place where most cancer in the United States is treated: community oncology clinics. I appreciated his advocacy to focus on wrap-around services to support the family members and care-givers of cancer patients.
Dempsey was joined WNYC’s Alison Stewart to discuss Dempsey’s personal experience with cancer, and how community-based care can help improve quality of life both for people undergoing cancer treatment and their families.
Special thanks to Gloria Oh at The AtlanticLIVE + The Atlantic for inviting me to speak at this summit, AtlanticLIVE Kristoffer Tripplaar for sharing photos of our conversation, and Flatiron Health Jenny Edelston for help preparing me to speak.