Cancer survivors describe need for oral chemo law

Oral chemotherapy has made Ross Nichols’ cancer treatment a bit more bearable.

Nichols, a lobbyist with the Missouri Trucking Association, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2011, had it removed and began oral chemotherapy in 2012.

“That made my life very normal,” he said. “They sent it to my house. I take anti-nausea with it (in the evening), wake up the next day and go to work. When something like this happens, the fight is to get back to normal. I have two kids.”

Nichols spoke in favor of a bill Tuesday at a House General Laws committee hearing that would prohibit a health plan from charging a higher co-payment, deductible, or coinsurance amount for orally administered chemotherapy than for intravenous (IV) chemotherapy.

Supporters of the bill said it would give more people the chance to have chemotherapy treatment with fewer side effects.

Nichols is again taking oral chemotherapy for two more tumors found in 2013.

“It is an amazing drug that allows me to be myself, be normal,” he said. “It allows me to do a better job. I fight every day, but that’s the life I’m living.”

He said he wishes he had some side effects from the chemotherapy pills, just so he knows they’re working.

“I’ve had no impact at all,” he said.

Rep. Sheila Solon, the bill’s sponsor, said it’s typical that patients experience fewer side effects from oral chemotherapy than from IV chemotherapy.

“People typically think of of painful cancer treatment at a hospital and it’s time consuming and inconvenient,” said Solon, R-Blue Springs. “Oral chemotherapy is taken in a pill form and patients don’t suffer hair loss or nausea. They’re able to continue to work and care for their families.”

She said that in many cases, IV chemotherapy kills even the good cells in your body.

“The orals attack the cancer cells themselves,” she said. “It’s targeted and it attacks the cancer. That’s why there’s less side effects.”

Four-time cancer survivor JoAnn Shaw has undergone years of traditional IV chemotherapy and radiation treatments that have taken a toll on her body.

“I have had multiple surgeries to remove organs damaged by IV chemo and my immune system no longer exists,” said Shaw, a Brentwood resident. “Cancer treatment also left me with brittle bone disease and permanent hair loss. Today I have regular lung infections and am facing the loss of sight in one eye — all related to damage done by traditional chemo.”

Shaw also spoke in favor of the bill, as did Dr. Carl Freter, director of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the University of Missouri — Columbia.

He said sometimes oral chemotherapy is the best option for patients, but if a patient can’t afford it, doctors must cobble together a form of IV chemotherapy that would be reasonable treatment when there is an excellent treatment available in an oral drug.

“That is a situation I hate to be put in,” he said. “This is the way of the future. Denying patients the ability to get drugs that are the best drugs for what they’ve got, and forcing them to get the less effective is in my view, just wrong.”

He said the pills cost so much because they are newly developed drugs.

“Ultimately, if this law is not passed, we will have a system in which people are denied appropriate medical care from the new technology that exists because we have a lack of parity between IV and oral drugs,” Freter said.

Solon said this bill is not a mandate.

“It’s parity,” she said. “This is treating oral and IV versions equally.”

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis and a member of the General Laws committee, thanked Solon for her passion for the bill.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about money, it’s about saving people’s lives,” he said.

While several individuals and organizations spoke in favor of the bill, no one spoke in opposition.

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