From Ear Infection To Liver Cancer To Hospice In Weeks
- Abel Guzman, 65, sold Mexican treats throughout Kings County, California for 35 years, until an ear infection put him out of commission in October. On closer look that infection turned out to be a sign of liver cancer, which Guzman had limited tools to fight because he lacks health insurance.
- His son started a fundraiser in hopes of getting the money required for his father to visit a specialist, but a day after it launched Guzman went in to hospice care because the cancer had spread throughout his body in the years it went undetected.
- “Research has shown that individuals without health insurance are more likely than individuals with health insurance to be diagnosed with advanced cancer which tends to be more deadly and more costly,” Shalini Vallabhan of the American Cancer Society Action Network said at this year’s Close the Gap conference hosted by SurvivorNet.
Abel Guzman sold Mexican treats throughout Kings County, California, for 35 years until an ear infection put him out of commission in October.Read More
His family had been working to raise funds in hopes of getting Guzman an appointment with a specialist, but that dream fell apart on Thanksgiving when he entered hospice care just one month after his liver cancer diagnosis.
“He was the type of person to get up at 7 am and load up the van full of bread and work all day… He sold pan dulces – everything from conchitas to bolillos,” his son Abel Guzman Jr told ABC 30.
He was not the type of person who cared about profit over people, though, according to the mayor of Hannford, the town where Guzman lived with his family.
“I remember one day he came by in his old van, I was looking at the bread and he says, ‘Hey, you need or want bread?’ and I said ‘Yes, but we have no money,'” recalled Mayor Francisco Ramirez of his first encounter with Guzman.
“He gave me a big bag of bread and said, ‘Whenever you can, just pay me.’ And that was his thing.”
Guzman’s biggest fan, however, remains his son.
“To see the impact my father has done, it’s a big thing to see it and to see the community that he served for many years coming together,” Guzman Jr. said of his “hero” dad.
That is why he spearheaded the effort to raise funds for his father to see a specialist in hopes he could fight liver cancer.
One day after launching that campaign, the family received devastating news, on Thanksgiving of all days.
“Last night, we received the devastating news that my dad’s cancer has spread and was sent home on hospice care, we don’t know how much time he has left, but he is surrounded by his family and by all the amazing messages you guys have sent and continue sending,” the family shared.
They will now use the funds raised for El Panadero de Kings County to cover his medical costs “until he is called home.”
More than ever, there is a need to rectify the racial disparities in cancer care and democratize information about the disease.
A panel of experts discussed the roots of this problem and the healthcare system’s many inequalities earlier this year when SurvivorNet hosted the Close the Gap conference in collaboration with Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health.
During her remarks, Vallabhan explained that the ACS is working to ease the cancer burden facing uninsured Americans such as Abel Guzman.
“Research conducted by the American Cancer Society has shown that individuals without health insurance are more likely than individuals with health insurance to be diagnosed with advanced cancer, which tends to be more deadly and more costly,” noted Vallabhan.
That is why the ACS is hoping to close the gap between insured and uninsured Americans.
“We are advocating for policies to ensure that health insurance is meaningful and affordable,” explained Vallabhan. “So, for example, coverage for cancer screening, diagnostic tests and therapies – that should be covered in health insurance.”
And while Vallabhan found the then-recent Supreme Court decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act to be a good thing, she also stressed that there is still a long way to go and much work to be done.
“We are also fighting in the 12 remaining states that have yet to expand Medicaid – an important safety net in the health insurance program,” said Vallabhan by way of example. “If these 12 states expand Medicaid, then we will have over 4.3 million individuals in the United States that have access to good health insurance.”
Vallabhan made those comments in June, and to date, those 12 states still refuse to expand Medicaid.
Vallabhan also stressed that screenings are crucial and shared her efforts towards making these lifesaving check-ups accessible and affordable to the entire population.
“So, we’re advocating for the National Breast and Cervical Early Detection Program,” said Vallabhan.
“This is such a critically important and successful program that provides screenings to low-income, uninsured, underinsured women, and a majority of those women are women of color.”
Clinical trials are another area that Vallabhan said she and the ACS hope to start enacting some change given how underrepresented communities of color continue to be in these crucial studies.
“We are pursuing policies that will help ensure that we have diverse participation in clinical trials, and we also want to help remove the additional barriers like financial constraints that individuals may have in terms of whether or not they access a trial,” explained Vallabhan.