For policymakers who think that innovation is just a buzzword, I’m living proof that it’s not. I’m alive today because, in 2008, my oncologist used a newly approved test to analyze my breast tumor and found very aggressive cancer. We knew from the start what we were up against because medical innovation had given the doctor a new tool that could analyze my tumor. We knew from the start how to treat it because medical research and discovery had created a variety of medicines including ones that worked for my specific situation. When policies promote and support medical breakthroughs like this, patients like me are given life-changing opportunities.
I’m grateful for beating cancer and the many joyous moments I’ve had since 2008 — my daughter’s wedding, playing with grandchildren, retiring with my husband to a home in the mountains, painting. But my journey before and after that moment has left me wondering why the same medical advancements that made it possible for me to beat cancer can’t solve the pain that remains an intrusive and burdensome aspect of my daily life.
When I was in college, my head hit the windshield during a serious car accident. I’m lucky I survived, but my quality of life changed forever. Spine issues caused me pain for extended periods of time. I saw a chiropractor, had endless physical therapy, underwent surgery, and visited pain management specialists, but the relief was only temporary. Existing medicines did not solve my problem. Over the intervening years I’ve experienced other serious health issues — bone and joint problems, neuropathy, sarcoidosis, a rotator cuff tear, and psoriatic arthritis.
My pain stabs, burns, and aches. There is also numbness now — neuropathy as a result of chemotherapy. My pain has not responded to the available treatments, or the side effects have been too much to deal with. Many mornings I can barely grip my morning cup of a coffee without spilling it. I’ve also had falls and ankle twists from the neuropathy. There are days I can’t even find the strength to paint.
I can’t help but wonder why the focus on medical innovation that resulted in the advancements that made my breast cancer diagnosis possible can’t be brought to bear on pain. For the millions of Americans like me who are living this daily battle, there are limited safe and effective treatment options that help us manage our pain— better solutions are needed.
As a nation, we need to urge our federal policymakers to find incentives that push medical research towards finding new treatment options for pain and open the pathway for innovative medicines to come to market for patients. The medicines currently available don’t work for everyone or every situation. Pain is still a mystery that has many unknowns. We need new answers – and more research in pain management.
The meaning of innovation is real-life for me and could be so for the one in five Americans who are living with pain. I believe it’s possible to find those answers. My own experiences have shown me that. September is National Pain Awareness Month, but for millions of us, every day is a Pain Awareness Day. We are waiting.