I have just learned of a gap in healthcare that has personally troubled me all week. When I was called to the recovery room last week to meet a patient having a port placed for chemotherapy, I had no idea that I would spend the rest of the day discouraged and concerned for the well-being of that patient.
She had just found out that she has advanced breast cancer and will need neoadjuvant chemotherapy. She is 48-years-old, married with no children and living in her car! According to her husband, that was not what they had planned. Two years later, however, circumstances mattered greatly to him for his wife’s recovery.
With summer upon us, temperatures were now well above 90 degrees. The side effects of chemotherapy made a comfortable bed and bathroom crucial. The two were convinced that housing was essential. However, what I found out astounded me.
If you are homeless, a single mother, or willing to work in exchange for transitional housing, that can be arranged. If you have six weeks to three months to live and need hospice or respite care, those locations are available too. But if you are still in the fight, want to begin treatment, and are homeless… there is no agency that can assist.
I must have called every country agency, religion-affiliated service, and colleague I know to find at least temporary living arrangements for this patient. Every call ended the same way, with the staff on the other end of the phone wishing me luck.
I realize that the economy has been a factor, and that many have lost their homes to foreclosure, at least in the parts of California where I live. I also understand that personal accountability for finding some sort of living arrangement is necessary. I also know that philanthropic organizations have stretched their dollars to the max in helping larger numbers of clients.
What I have come to realize is that navigating cancer patients is a moral and ethical challenge in their journeys to wellness. When I spoke to our medical social worker, he thought she was luckier than some: “At least she has a car and is eligible for Medicaid,” he said. “Some have even less than that.”
It seems our society doesn't keep too many statistics on how many homeless individuals are struggling with life-threatening diseases. Frustratingly, the only statistics I could find on homeless individuals becoming ill are not current. Any data I found was at least 20 years old. All advocates for the homeless would agree that things have become much worse since then.
I wonder how others across the nation have dealt with similar situations, or if anyone knows specific agencies more likely to assist this kind of patient. I am saddened that a cancer patient may have to live in her car while undergoing treatment because she has nowhere to turn. This is also just the beginning of her treatment.