Having survived cancer, you realise that there is nothing more terrifying in the world and nothing that more impossible to beat. It’s a useful perspective to have when you are facing the reality of having Donald Trump serve as your president for the next four years, and the possibility that the GOP will repeal the very thing that saved your life: Obamacare.
Healthcare isn’t something high up on your list when you’re a self-employed massage therapist and yoga instructor. Getting medical insurance seemed too expensive for someone with an irregular income like me; and as a vegetable munching, health enthusiast with no family history of major diseases, I never felt any imperative to get coverage. There was a sense of precariousness, but I put this to the back of my mind.
This all changed once the Affordable Care Act was introduced in 2014. I went onto the website and shopped for a policy. I was still sceptical that healthcare would truly be accessible – I had heard so many stories of insurance companies charging exorbitant fees and denying people coverage – but I qualified for a subsidy that enabled me to buy a very good policy. I found a great doctor and was finally able get testing for all those nagging little things that up until then I’d ignored. This included chronic abdominal and lower back pain, as well as a bit of bleeding, which my previous doctor had attributed to haemorrhoids.
It had been suggested several years prior that I get a colonoscopy “just to be on the safe side.” I paid out-of-pocket to see a surgeon, but at the last minute, we decided to forego the test because the cost was too much for me.
That fall, Healthcare.gov, the Obamacare website, sent out a notice recommending that we check the marketplace again in December, as the policies and prices were subject to change. The friend who helped me navigate the confusing array of plans recommended I get a new one – this time with full coverage for any surgeries – “just in case”. I had never even had stitches before, but I said, “Sure, whatever”.
It was again suggested that I get a colonoscopy. When I went in for what I assumed would be a routine test and they found a large tumour in my colon, which turned out to be stage three cancer. As I have learned since, colon cancer is easy to treat if it’s discovered early, but tends to be symptomatic only once it’s more advanced and much more deadly. My cancer was early stage three, having grown through the colon wall and begun to spread via my lymphatic system towards other organs.
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I was in shock, of course, but knowing that I was being taken care of was extremely reassuring. A week later I had surgery to remove the tumour along with 30 cementers of my colon, followed by six months of chemotherapy. I stopped working, moved out of my rented home – which was also where I had my massage office – and moved in with my mother.
Without Obamacare, the effect on me and my family would have been catastrophic. I have been “in remission” since September 2015, and have no medical debts. I gave up my career and, for now, work part-time at a coffee shop, which means that I now qualify for and rely on Medicaid – the government funded health care for low income people.
Without Obamacare, I would no doubt be dead or in destitution. My story was nothing short of a miracle, and I am so grateful to the Obama administration. Right now, we don’t know what Trumpcare might look like, but I’m worried. I worry about the potential removal of subsidies that helped me get screened for cancer. I worry about Medicaid being rolled back, meaning that the safety net that helped me recover from cancer, when I lost my job, will no longer be there for others going through the same thing.
I’ve become more vocal and ready to fight for my country and the people who don’t have a voice. Cancer gave me the freedom of having nothing left to lose and the election of Donald Trump gave me the shock I needed to move out of fear, into a state of readiness to see what part I can play in resisting the Republicans’ agenda.
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