Together We Can: Coming Together to Heal When There Is No Cure

On a chilly recent night in the middle of the heartland, a football game was going to be played. The school is known for agriculture, pharmacy, engineering, and nursing. On this night however, they were going for a chance to be known as something completely different. On this night they would be facing an undefeated, top ranked team and were planning to win, something they had not done in two decades. But they had a secret weapon. His name is Tyler Trent.

Tyler is a huge Purdue Boilermakers guy. He was planning to attend his favorite university one day but was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of cancer, mid-high school. He had his upper arm replaced with a titanium rod and went through multiple cycles of chemotherapy and achieved remission. Tyler graduated, but the summer before college, his cancer relapsed. He met the news head-on but insisted he get to college on time. And just mere weeks after having his pelvis essentially rebuilt, he stepped onto campus as a student — right on time. During his time in college, he has loved his team and his school unconditionally. At the same time, Tyler and his family have shared his story to raise awareness and funding for the treatment of cancer. This year, he was anxiously anticipating the Purdue vs. Ohio State game and was calling for a win. Despite his courage and excellent care, however, his cancer progressed, and he was forced to withdraw from Purdue to accommodate his home hospice care. But he kept that game circled on his calendar, and although it had been a rough week, he somehow made it there.

[See: What Causes Cancer? 5 Unlikely Claims Explained.]

Tyler’s story reflects so many amazing things. The magic that can happen when life and sports intersect, for one thing. We’ve seen it before, most notably when then-President George Bush threw out the first pitch post-Sept. 11, and a great roar erupted in the form of the American spirit. But it’s also a lesson about health care that’s rare to see. There is no doubt that the United States is a real dichotomy on the health care front. While it’s true that our care is the most expensive in the entire world, it’s also a system of dedicated clinicians who do everything they can to treat their patients. Still, there are times when even the most astute scientists find that the treatments at their fingertips are not enough. In those moments, as hard as it is to accept, they change their focus from curing to healing, to discerning the patient’s goals of care and finding the best way to meet them. In addition, for people to adequately heal, it takes so much more than doctors. It takes the love and support of the community around them to fully walk their journey and maximally achieve the quality of life they deserve.

Recently, Dr. Don Berwick, former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, recorded a speech regarding patient harm. It was a call to action, actually. When faced with the challenge of eradicating preventable harm in hospitals, he was asking: If not now, when, and if not us, who would solve the dilemma and in what time frame? Those questions apply to so many issues in health care today, dilemmas that require answers. How can we deliver value in treating patients? How can we make sure that there is equity in access and care received? How can we make it affordable? Who are we going to have provide it if we’re losing physicians to burnout at an all-time alarming rate? What can we do for those like Tyler, where our remedies appear not to be enough?

[Read: Cancer: The Elephant in the Room.]

So back to the game. Tyler made it to the stadium and the team took the field. They were fierce and they were unafraid, just like their secret weapon. The team played like they never had before, united in one mission with a purpose higher than any individual goal or even a school win on the football field. They were on fire with the love and healing of their brother burning deep within. It could be karma or stars aligning or anything else, but that night, this team who had a been an underdog on every poll but one won by more than four touchdowns. It was only the vote of Tyler Trent that had predicted this win. On this night, rivalries from all over the state of Indiana and in many corners of the country were put aside, and the community was healed by the most normal of human emotions: compassion. It has not stopped there. People who don’t know one another are uniting on social media to help the fight against cancer in honor of the witness they have borne to the bravery of a college student. The two biggest rivals in the state, Purdue and Indiana University, even compete in their dance marathons to raise money for the local children’s hospital. The marathons, just one week apart on the calendar, have started their own social media campaign together, #togetherwecan.

It’s time now for those who have the power to fix health care to take the lesson that Tyler is teaching all of us to heart. Regardless of personal agendas, the strength of the lobby or which side of the aisle people sit on, it’s time to work together to pull off the impossible, just like the Boilermaker football team. Unity made the impossible totally doable. This is a call to action, and leaders of the most evolved country in the world need to step up to the challenge.

[See: How Social Workers Help Your Health.]

On that crisp fall evening in the middle of the heartland, healing was experienced by all. A team was united in the silhouette of a young man who was teaching courage by example. The time was right now. The who was the team taking the field. And it was spectacular.

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