By Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Portland, OR — The good news: if you detect cancer in its earliest phase — Stage 1 — the chances are good that you can beat it and live a long, healthy life.
The bad news: if you wait until cancer is too far gone — Stage 4 — you will probably die a painful, miserable death within the year.
So who wouldn’t get a check-up? Maybe people who can’t afford it?
To help highlight the need for better health care, Marie Dahlstrom described the present situation as a “broken health care system.” Dahlstrom serves as executive director of Familias en Acción, the host organization of the Third Annual Latino Health Equity Conference.
The event’s 22 sponsors included colleges, health care businesses, and an assortment of charitable organizations.
Held May 17 at Kaiser Permanente’s Town Hall building in North Portland, the conference featured more than 40 health specialists who presented cutting-edge information to several hundred professionals.
Bringing healthcare to everyone
Many families in the Portland area cannot afford check-ups. That leaves them vulnerable to America’s two top killers: heart disease and cancer. With more than a hundred forms of cancer, performing a complete test is out of reach of most people, especially the poor.
A new program may help provide more affordable health services. The state of Oregon is working on a new plan — the Oregon Health Insurance Exchange. It should be in operation Jan. 1, 2014.
The exchange’s web-site says, “The Oregon Health Insurance Exchange is a central marketplace where consumers and small employers can shop for health insurance plans and access federal tax credits to help them pay for coverage.”
This plan will affect small businesses — those with 50 employees or fewer — as well as individuals who do not have access to affordable coverage from their employers.
According to the exchange web site, Oregonians will be able to compare insurance plans from many companies. Moreover, individuals will be able to learn “if they are eligible for tax credits and other financial assistance … .”
For a state to receive funding, it must be certified by the federal government by Jan. 23, 2013.
On Oct. 1, 2013, the exchange will begin opening enrollment to companies and individuals. By Jan. 1, 2014, all 50 states must operate a health insurance exchange.
Like grandmother, like granddaughter?
At Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), researchers found that over the last 10 years the rate of Type 2 diabetes has increased significantly in the United States. So have high blood pressure readings, indicating an increase in heart disease.
Kent Thornburg, director of the OHSU Heart Research Center, said both findings are the product of unhealthy diets. Predictably, eating foods high in glucose and high insulin levels receive most of the blame for increased deaths.
A century ago, Thornburg said, wealthy Americans were the victims of heart disease. They ate unhealthy rich foods — and plenty of them. To the south, Mexicans lived on a spare, but healthy, diet. They had a low incidence of heart disease.
However, a century later, the tables had turned. Millionaires had switched to healthier diets. In the meantime, low-income Hispanic families had moved to the United States in search of better jobs. Many now, unfortunately, eat inexpensive fast foods loaded with unhealthy fats and sugar.
Recent research has opened some rather surprising doors. Thornburg explained how a woman’s diet affects not only herself, but it could also determine the health of her children and grandchildren.
Fat in the blood causes heart disease, Thornburg explained. That fat also affects a woman’s genes. Those genes get passed on to her daughters and even her grandchildren.
One of the side effects is that a grandmother’s genes affect the size of her children — and the size of her grandchildren also.
Another factor enters the equation. The birth-weight of a child affects his or her future health. The healthiest children, experts say, were those that weighed about seven to nine pounds at birth. Babies weighing five pounds or less or 10 pounds or more will usually be more prone to diseases through their lives.
“If you are born small,” Thornburg said, “you tend to make up for it the rest of your life.” That extra food results in obesity and heart disease. And the obese mothers pass problems on to their children.
The child’s birth weight depends, to a degree, upon the genes of its mother and grandmother. Another factor is the mother’s age. Teenage mothers have smaller babies, Thornburg noted.
How to beat cancer
Cancer is the most feared disease around. It’s sneaky. And it’s frequently fatal.
Gloria Coronado, a staff member of Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, offered some information about dealing with cancer.
Most importantly, she said, if everyone was screened on a regular basis, there would be about 33 percent fewer fatalities due to cancer.
The later that cancer is detected, she said, the more invasive the medical procedures are and the less successful the outcome are likely to be.
Clearly, the best idea is to schedule an examination with your doctor.
The lowest rate of screening for cancer occurs in persons newly arrived in the United States, she said. That would explain, to some degree, why cancers were detected earlier in non-Hispanic whites.
Coronado said that many people delay check-ups, saying, “I feel fine, so why should I get screened?”
That, she warned, is a bad idea. “If you wait until you feel bad, then it’s too late.”
Dr. Ariel López-Chávez noted that the cost of treating cancer is becoming higher every year. That is especially true, he said, for those whose cancer is detected later. López-Chávez is a staff member at OHSU.
There is some help for low-income families. A number of charitable groups provide some assistance for low-income families.
The LIVESTRONG Foundation is one. Seven-time Tour de France champion bicyclist Lance Armstrong seemed an unlikely cancer candidate. Without knowing it, he developed testicular cancer. It would have been easy to cure it in its early stages, but because he ignored the warning signs, the cancer spread to Armstrong’s abdomen, lungs, and brain.
During his recovery period, Armstrong created LIVESTRONG Navigation Services to provide information about the disease. To learn about this service, visit the www.livestrong.org/. For more information, the site promises, “We’ll answer your questions from diagnosis, through treatment and beyond, and help you take cancer head-on.”
Melissa Sileo, representative of the organization, said that English- and Spanish-speaking operators can be reached at 855-220-7777.
To frame the emotional state of undocumented immigrants, Rosemary Celaya-Alston of Familias en Acción and others on her panel discussed a number of pressures bearing upon some families — especially those with undocumented parents.
Consider the pressure of fearing that your family might be torn apart by government agents. Or the possibility that you are likely to be targeted by police because of the way you look. Or the possibility that you might be deported because a tail light on your car is broken. How would that affect your attitude?
And those are just a few pressures weighing on some people.
Men are often expected to measure up to unreasonable role models. Women, on the other hand, usually carry the burden of making the family’s health decisions. At the same time, many women fear domestic violence.
Omar Cervantes, one of two moderators of the panel, said social pressures could lead to depression among Latino men. “Depression is an under-diagnosed, under-treated problem,” Cervantes said. Some of the symptoms of depression are the same of as cancer, he said — tiredness and weight loss.
“It’s hard for Latinos to open up and talk about their emotions,” Cervantes observed. “Those who have family support have a [better] chance to overcome depression.” Cervantes is developing a program to address depression for Familias en Acción.
Familias en Acción
In 1998 several members of the Latino community and others developed Familias en Acción. Their goal was to create a multi-layered program involving the whole community that could work as a team to improve the health of the community. In other words, it is a “holistic health integrating mind, body, and spirit.”
The group has a wide range of helpful programs, including the new online magazine, eSalud Today. For more information, visit www.esaludtoday.com/revista-online/.