This post is from 2015 when I attended the Internation Psycho-Oncology/American Psychosocial Oncology World Conference in Washington, DC.  Three years later we continue to face serious disparities in health care.  This post is dedicated to women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer who are from communities that struggle with access to quality care.

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

I am attending the International Psycho-Oncology/American Psychosocial Oncology World Conference in Washington, DC.  Nearly 1,000 people from 29 countries have gathered to discuss the vital importance of implementing quality psychosocial care for cancer patients and their communities.  From National to Global: Implementing the Standard of Psychosocial Care in Oncology.

I have listened to many stories of the need to attend to the human right to health care in this world. I heard about children in Kenya who are kept in the hospital until their families can pay the bill for the treatment they have received.  I now know that many people with terminal cancer die extremely painful deaths because they do not have palliative care medications to ease their suffering.  In some situations, caregivers will be punished for allowing families to receive the bodies of their loved ones if they have not completed payment for their treatment.  Other such atrocities occur daily and are endured silently on the planet. Many are denied not only quality physical treatment but attention to the emotional and social trauma of a cancer diagnosis.  Due to the health care system in the United States, a serious medical diagnosis is the most common reason for bankruptcy.

There are people who are saying that this is unacceptable, they are speaking up and taking action.

Cancer survivors in Australia, unsatisfied with the quality of emotional care rebelled and have formed highly successful peer support groups – they became advocates for their own care as well as the care of other cancer survivors. As consumers, they raised their voices … and the government as well as the medical establishment listened.  As a powerful patient group they brought about change in the system. They did not remain silent …

“The International Psycho-Oncology Society (IPOS) Human Rights Task Force has been working since 2008 to raise awareness and support from within IPOS and the IPOS Federation for the relevance of Psychosocial Cancer Care as a Human Rights issue. We seek to advocate for this issue internationally and nationally through existing Human Rights laws.”

I want to acknowledge those who work tirelessly to bring not only equality but also quality into the lives of those who struggle with the anguish of illness and sorrow. I ask us all to join them, to end our silence in the face of adversity and agony.

I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.”      Malala Yousafzai