Hope and realism rhyme on China’s ‘Cancer Street’
A narrow street in Changsha has become home to hundreds undergoing treatment
A shop selling wigs and headscarves on Jiatong Street, known locally as Cancer Street, in Changsha, in Hunan province. Photograph: Clifford Coonan
In Changsha, a narrow street threads its way between the scrubby fields behind the giant grey Hunan Provincial Tumour Hospital and the equally drab Hunan Normal University Medical College in the provincial capital.
Cancer Street is where hope and pragmatism blend in true Chinese style, where sick people put their fears behind them and concentrate on getting well, in a way that they can afford.
Like other Chinese shopping streets, it’s a bustling place, but the shops on Cancer Street are aimed at the hundreds of patients that come to stay here during prolonged periods of treatment.
The hospitals that loom large over the thoroughfare are enormous but they cannot cope with the numbers who need long-term residential treatment, so Jiatong Street has become a place where people stay, often for months, while they receive care.
There are wig and hat shops to cater for people who have lost their hair from radiation treatment. A fair number of stores sell miracle cures. Hotels offer cheap accommodation for long-term patients.
Ms Li is 50 years old and comes from Tangshi county, in Hunan, and she’s doing sums in her head as we speak, in the stairwell of the boarding house where she is staying.
“I have a tumour and I’m getting treatment. I’ve been here almost a month. It’s going well,” she says. She is wearing a pink woolly hat with the Chanel logo, and she rents a room with two beds at 800 yuan (€96) a month, so her family can stay with her and take care of her.
People began to move here because they couldn’t stay in the hospital while getting long-term treatment for a couple of months, and now it is a fully fledged community serving cancer patients and their needs.
“This neighbourhood is quite convenient. I can find everything I need. The cost for treatment is at least 30,000 yuan (€3,650), and I’ve borrowed it from my family and relatives. It’s not easy, because the people in my village don’t have that much money either,” she says.
China is reforming its healthcare system as costs rise, public hospitals face increasing problems and the number of patients with chronic illnesses continues to increase. The country’s healthcare system is seriously underfunded, and the government has said it will try and improve the state healthcare provision as a priority. The country has a high savings rate, and one of the reasons for that is that people save to pay for treatment if they fall ill.