Cancer Patients See No Relief From State Care
Published: December 19, 2012 (Issue # 1740)
MOSCOW — When Maria Gritsai was diagnosed with late-stage cervical cancer, she didn’t spend much time grieving. She knew she had to act fast.
With the support of her husband and son, she turned to the Blokhin Cancer Center, one of Russia’s best oncology hospitals, where the diagnosis was confirmed. Doctors there also gave her some devastating news: At such an advanced stage, her cancer was incurable.
But she was determined to fight. She began a series of treatments, including home chemotherapy sessions that came with harsh side effects, and bought a costly medicine a doctor said she needed to stay alive that would have taken four months to get from the public health care system.
The chemotherapy diminished the tumor, but Russian doctors said they could do nothing more after the sessions were completed.
After her chemotherapy treatments, Gritsai was “officially sent off … for pain treatment and to live out the rest of [her] days,” she wrote in a blog entry.
“For now, they have given up on me in Russia,” she wrote.
She collected donations online and sought treatment in Germany, where doctors said she may have been misdiagnosed because not enough examinations had been done. They said she could have been operated on and cured if her doctors hadn’t missed the early stages of the disease.
Gritsai, 35, died at the Grosshadern Clinic in Munich on Oct. 22 — but apparently not from cancer. Doctors told her husband, Yevgeny, that she had been poisoned by the chemotherapy drugs Cisplatin and Xeloda, which are also used in Germany but are accompanied by supportive drug therapy to diminish harmful side effects and aid recovery.
Gritsai’s case highlights many of the faults with cancer treatment in Russia’s state health care system, which doctors say suffers from problematic legislation, excessive bureaucracy and a lack of financing.
Gritsai’s experience, which she described online and in an interview with The St. Petersburg Times in late September, included lying sick on the floor of the Blokhin center for hours to take a blood test, meetings with indifferent doctors and attempts to perform minor surgery with no anesthetic.
After Gritsai received the grim diagnosis from the Blokhin Center, her husband found a doctor at the clinic who prescribed chemotherapy treatments for Maria “at his own risk.” The treatments were performed at Gritsai’s home by a local doctor, she said at her home in Chekhov, a Moscow region town 60 kilometers south of the capital.
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