Thirteen years ago, Amanda Bennett and her family were living in Portland. She was an editor at the Oregonian on the way to her second Pulitzer Prize when she found out that her husband, Terence Brian Foley, had kidney cancer. That was the beginning of a seven-year odyssey through the American medical system.
Like so many families, Bennett and Foley navigated through the experiences of surgery, chemo, biopsies and remission. Since Bennett and Foley had a good insurance plan, they could focus on care rather than cost.
After Foley died in 2007, Bennett’s instincts as an investigative journalist resurfaced and she decided she wanted to understand the hidden economics behind the interventions that had prolonged her husband’s life. The result is her memoir The Cost of Hope.
In an interview with Think Out Loud’s Dave Miller, Bennett explores the costs of the healthcare system by sharing the story of her husband’s death from cancer.
Meeting her husband:
“It was in 1983. We were both in China. I was a journalist at the time. I was at a party — when I was taking a break from writing a story — and this nice man sat down next to me. I told him the story I was working on and he engaged me in very intense conversation on the exact topic, Sino-Soviet relations. It turned out he was a Fulbright Scholar, or at least so he said, studying Sino-Soviet relations. It wasn’t until months later when I met him at another party when he handed me a business card that said he actually was the representative for the American Soybean Association. So, my first official words to him at this point were, ‘You jerk! You could’ve gotten me fired.’ He said, ‘You were cute. You were a journalist. How long would you’ve talked to me if I told you I was in soybeans?’ “
Revisiting the cancer cells that killed her husband:
“I was able to actually go back and look at my husband’s cancer. It’s still on file there at the hospital. I was trying to decide what I’m supposed to feel about this thing. What I felt was, ‘So you’re the little creatures that killed my husband. That’s it? These little dots on the screen? You’re what killed my husband.’ It was an eerie feeling. On the other hand Terence was so into knowledge, research and learning about things I thought, ‘He would think this is so cool. I wish I could show it to him.’ “
Experience with medical trials:
“We had been seeing this doctor. He had been treating Terence. He had been really clear that our goal was to have Terence live as long as possible. We wanted to extend his life. At some point we were off for the clinical trial. We read the consent form, both of us are alone in the office, and we realized we were being offered a phase one trial that is designed to test the toxicity of a certain drug. It isn’t even intended to find if it works or not. We both look at each other and we say, ‘Why were we offered this?’ There is nothing in here about extending his life. Years later when I am writing the book, I go back to the doctor and say, ‘You knew what we wanted. Why did you offer us this clinical trial?’ He said, ‘Because you were eligible for it.’ So within the scientific community they needed to recruit people who were eligible for this trial and here came an eligible patient, let’s try and recruit him.”
Listen to Think Out Loud‘s full conversation with Amanda Bennett.