WHO CARES: Chronic Illness in America
WHO CARES: Chronic Illness in America

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Pat ColeyOne Life, Many Conditions

A brave survivor relies on volunteer caregivers to help manage her multiple chronic conditions

Pat Coley, 67, has had health problems since 1958 when she suffered the first of two serious automobile accidents. The first left her unconscious for 30 days, while the second broke both her legs. In 1975, Pat recalls, she moved from San Francisco to Seattle, "And that's when the trouble started."

That year, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a mastectomy. Twelve years later, Pat was told she had throat cancer, which was treated with radiation. If that wasn't enough, in the early 90s she was diagnosed again with breast cancer.

Remarkably, Pat has maintained a fair amount of independence throughout her ordeals. As a result of her bout with throat cancer, she eats using a feeding tube, which she manages on her own. "There is nothing left of my throat," Pat says. "It's all scar tissue now from the radiation."

Pat is amazed by how little the healthcare system provides people trying to cope with multiple chronic conditions. Her medical coverage provides for no home assistance, and Pat must find alternatives for coping with some of the complications from her injuries and illness. For example, she relies on voluntary assistance from the Care Team Ministry caregivers who come three times a week to help tighten her arm brace after showering.

"I've been very lucky, with the care team. I've run into some people that have given me help when I've needed it," says Pat. "A lot of people don't get that kind of help." Although she can get herself to a few local stores on an electric scooter, Pat often pays out-of-pocket for a van service to get to doctor appointments.

Also frustrating, Pat feels her HMO prevents her from speaking to doctors and caregivers about her needs. "I hate being treated like a know-nothing, unworthy of conversation with a doctor," she says, adding "I doubt if this is my own paranoia, as I have heard it from many others."
Question and answer with Pat Coley
A day in the life of Pat Coley
The American Cancer Society
The site features a variety of educational and support materials, including a hospital locator.

The National Cancer Institute
Sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

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The National Cancer Institute estimates that about one in eight American women in the will develop breast cancer.

Since 1990, approximately 13 million new cancer cases have been diagnosed.

There are over 100 different kinds of arthritic disease, and more than 40 million Americans suffer from some form.

Osteoarthritis affects about 16 million Americans; rheumatoid arthritis affects about 2.1 million and is the most crippling form of the disease.

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