Cancer cannot be defeated, but it can be tamed – interview with the Vice President of the Athena. Women Against Cancer”

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Recently, many oncologists in Ukraine have noted an increase in the incidence of cancer. Two main reasons are given. First, long-term stress can lead to tearing where it is thin. Secondly, in the current circumstances, people often forget about the need for preventive examinations. Due to the combination of these reasons, cancer is often diagnosed at stages when it is already very difficult to do anything, according to the in the article of Dzerkalo Tyzhnia. .

In Ukraine, the Athena. Women Against Cancer”. It was created to protect the rights and interests of cancer patients and unites tens of thousands of cancer patients from all regions of Ukraine. Victoria Romaniuk, vice president of the NGO, says that those who have received a terrible diagnosis should not immediately sell their apartments and go into debt. It should be remembered that oncology clinics are provided with the necessary medicines that patients can receive free of charge.

– Viktoriia, how did you come up with the idea of creating the Athena. Women Against Cancer”?

– I am also a cancer patient myself.

– Did you manage to defeat a terrible disease?

– There is no need to talk about the victory over cancer. It can only be tamed. This is a disease that can return at any time. Therefore, it is necessary to undergo regular examinations, before which everyone is very nervous – I know from experience.

I found out about my diagnosis of breast cancer in 2016 and took it as a verdict. Doctors were not very willing to talk about my illness, and I found all the information on the Internet. My mood was like this: that’s it, I’m done, I’m going to die soon. The drug I needed, Trastuzumab, was purchased in Ukraine in very limited quantities at the time, and oncology centers did not have it. The price of the drug is very high – about 50 thousand hryvnias for one course. And there were 18 such courses to be taken during the year.

People helped, most of whom I did not know. The fundraiser was organized for me by the daughter of a woman I met at the Cancer Institute. We raised money for the first course of infusions, then for the second. In total, we managed to get Trastuzumab for five courses.

– But we had to get 13 more!

– I wrote letters to the Ministry of Health, talked to the minister (then Uliana Suprun). She asked me to provide me with the necessary medicines. I constantly monitored the presence/absence of the drugs I needed on the Cancer Institute’s website, and finally saw that the drugs had arrived – they were purchased at the expense of the state budget. I called my doctor and asked if I could get them. At first he said yes, but a few hours later he called back and said that I was not on the list of 13 patients who would receive the drug. I was in despair! I posted a post on Facebook, describing the situation and asking for help: since I have no money for another course of Trastuzumab infusions, I will have to stop treatment. Soon after, I received a call from the Cancer Institute and was asked to come to the management. I came from Lutsk, where I live, met with the institute’s management, and wrote an application asking for the full course of treatment.

– It was a real struggle for life…

– I am sure that if I had not publicized this story, I would not have received treatment. There were women in the ward with me who never received these medicines. They either refused treatment or looked for ways to resolve the dilemma of living or dying. One of them was actively losing weight, since the amount of the drug is calculated based on body weight. Unfortunately, this woman was not able to complete the full course of treatment. She died.

I fought fiercely for my life. I saw women who condemned themselves to death just because they didn’t have hundreds of thousands for medicine. Therefore, while still in the hospital, together with my fellow diagnosed patient Nina Reznichenko, I created the public organization Athena. Women Against Cancer”.

It was in 2017. Now the organization unites cancer patients from all regions of Ukraine. The main goal is to protect their rights. Even before the creation of this organization, I was looking for cancer patients who faced the dilemma of “money or death” and told them how to get free medicines, shared my experience. She also addressed the state authorities with letters to provide cancer patients with medicines.

– What is the current situation with medicines for cancer patients?

– Today, this drug is available in Ukraine in sufficient quantities. It is purchased at the expense of the state budget, and patients should receive it free of charge. To ensure that patients have the necessary medicines, the NGO Athena. Women Against Cancer has also done a lot.

– However, even now, when the National Health Service provides the country’s cancer centers with expensive medicines in adequate quantities, we have to read on social media about raising money for cancer patients…

– Unfortunately, many people do not know about free medical services and medicines. It is because of the stereotype that cancer treatment requires a lot of money that people sometimes refuse treatment before they even start it. However, all basic chemotherapy drugs are procured from the state budget. It is important for patients to know that they do not have to pay for medical services already paid for by the state. Each medical institution that has a contract with the National Health Service of Ukraine receives funds from the NHSU for each medical service provided. These services are free for the patient.

Another cancer patient, Svitlana Rezvan, has not only beaten cancer, but is now serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. She is a junior lieutenant, a press officer.

– I learned about the terrible diagnosis in February 2020,” Svitlana shares her story. – The doctor announced the final diagnostic result to me right on my birthday. Such a “gift”… The hardest part was figuring out how to tell the children about it.

I am one of those who never give up and fight to the last. She has been volunteering since 2014. Many people know me, and I know many people. She wrote a post on Facebook saying that she had pulled out a “lottery ticket” like this. Many fellow volunteers responded. I was found a very qualified doctor at the Kharkiv Regional Oncology Center – Dmitry Sergeevich Bukhteev. They said he could be trusted. And trust is very important in the treatment of cancer.

I received many medicines free of charge because the Kharkiv Cancer Center has an agreement with the NHS. I should note that the solution for infusion of one drug cost 44 thousand hryvnias at that time. All patients received free of charge super-expensive drugs. From the “valley of death” the cancer center has turned into a territory of joy! And all this is thanks to excellent doctors and the National Health Service.

– However, many oncology patients still say that treatment costs them a fortune. Why?

– “The list of drugs procured from the state budget is limited,” explains Victoria Romaniuk. – These are about a hundred names of drugs. There are more than a hundred types of cancer, and each requires its own medicine. For each stage of the disease – too. So, they procure basic drugs, several targeted drugs(targeted therapy blocks the growth of cancer cells by interfering with the mechanism of action of specific target ed molecules necessary for carcinogenesis й tumor growth . – Y.M.), as well as some drugs for hormone therapy.

– When do patients have to pay for treatment out of pocket?

– There are many innovative medicines provided for in international treatment protocols, but Ukraine does not purchase them. These drugs are mostly used to treat advanced cancer or in case of relapse. The law provides for the purchase of these drugs, but we need a budget! And as we know, he is consumed by war. I hope that this year at least some innovative drugs will be procured.

– That is, the patient has to buy these drugs at the expense of the family budget. How much money are we talking about?

– Approximately 50 to 150 thousand hryvnias per month.

– Most patients simply don’t have that kind of money!

– Yes. But I would like to emphasize that it is much easier to cure cancer in the early stages of the disease because the main chemotherapy drugs are purchased from the state budget. They are available in hospitals and are provided to patients free of charge. However, it is necessary for people to undergo regular check-ups. This is extremely important! But now we see that people are not doing this. Therefore, more and more often cancer is diagnosed at late stages.

– What examinations should be performed and at what intervals?

– Every woman should visit a gynecologist annually. In addition, women from the age of 20 should undergo a clinical breast examination. From the age of 30, they need to be tested for the human papillomavirus. But, unfortunately, we do not have a state vaccination program against this virus.Some cities have local programs for adolescent girls under the age of 16. – Y.M.) But papilloma can threaten a woman with cervical cancer! I would like to note that in countries with state vaccination programs, such as Australia, the incidence of cervical cancer is practically zero.

Further, after the age of 40, women must undergo mammography plus the examinations they had at an earlier age. From the age of 50, a woman should undergo a mammogram every two years and visit a gynecologist. And once every five years, have a colonoscopy.

Men over 40 years old need an annual examination by a urologist. You should also have a colonoscopy every five years. If there is a history of cancer in the family, other examinations may be prescribed. Smokers should take care of their lungs.

According to Viktoriia, cancer prevention is very necessary – the disease detected in the early stages can be treated with the means available at the clinic. At the same time, she noted that cancer in the early stages may not manifest itself in any way. If threatening symptoms appear, this may indicate that the disease is in the later stages, and it is much more difficult and expensive to treat. That is why preventive medical examinations are so important.

In conclusion, Victoria Romaniuk addressed the cancer patients: “Do not forget about your rights! The public organization “Athena. Women Against Cancer” organized a hotline “Patient has the right” (+380 669 113 333, +380 689 113 333, Monday-Friday, from 10:00 to 18:00). By calling these numbers, you can find out how to get free services and medicines provided by law and regulations at the cancer center.

Don’t give up!”

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