Patient Claims Hospital Canceled Cancer Treatment for College Football Game

Football is more important to the oncologists, even during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's Health Care center because they cancelled a woman's radiation treatment. She has stage 4 breast cancer.

UNC played against the University of Miami on Thursday night, which was only their second midweek night game and the first since 2009. Kathleen Keating, a friend of the woman, said the patient was told on Wednesday her Thursday appointment would be postponed because of the football game.

“I think it’s criminal,” Keating said. “I like football, but it’s not even an equation you need to do in your head. Football versus cancer treatment? It’s just not a question.”

The unnamed patient was too ill to be interviewed Thursday, Keating said. She has Stage 4 breast cancer and is in considerable pain, Keating said.

UNC Health Care claims they planned for the game months in advance, and spokeswoman Karen McCall said most were not scheduled for Thursday afternoon and if anyone was rescheduled it was not because of the game. Dr. Shelley Earp, director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said a piece of radiation equipment was not working. He said patients will be seen on Saturday, but it was up to the providers whose care to cancel on Thursday.

The radiation oncology clinics set up Saturday treatments to accommodate patients who could not be seen on Thursday, he said. Physicians determined who could wait “without harming their care,” he added.

“So it was a decision that was made by the providers,” Earp said. “Some of those people are going to have their therapy on Saturday. Some may not. It may not make a difference whether they have it every day. ...It was a considered decision.”

Stage 4 breast cancer is the last stage and is considered intrusive. A person is pushed to stage 4 after the cancer has spread to other organs. These include the brain, bones, lungs and liver. It is listed as incurable, but new technology allows a person to extend life several years with the advanced cancer. Plus, Keating said her friend is in an enormous amount of pain, is very ill, and was told her appointment was postponed because of the game. After all, according to Dr. Earp, they only exist because of the university so it is important to make football their top priority. 

“We are who we are because of the university,” he said. “We are able to attract 300 world-class faculty who want to be in a university town. They could be anyplace in American, because they’re that quality.”

Keating is not buying anything the university is feeding the media and is appalled they would treat patients with cancer in this way.

“The system should not be doing this to people with cancer,” Keating said. “It’s just wrong.”


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