As the pandemic rages on and the election draws ever closer, it’s possible to lose sight of some of the important things we regularly recognize in more normal years. I don’t want to let that happen. So before October ends, I want to recognize the fact that it has been Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This month’s designation is incredibly important to me because it was my experience with breast cancer that galvanized me to write Marching Toward Coverage. Starting with my diagnosis, I experienced first-hand the inequities of how cancer affects us and the fact that being a person with good health insurance coverage was profoundly better than being someone with no coverage or inadequate coverage.
The first benefit of my health insurance coverage was early detection, thanks to being reminded to go in for the dreaded mammogram. Shamefully, even though I had health insurance coverage and received regular reminders, I had not had a mammogram for three years (I was too busy running my business and taking care of everyone else). By the time I went in, my healthcare providers had a fancy new machine, and it could detect the slightest issues. Which it did, in my case. The only problem was that I didn’t believe the results – I figured that the questionable cells were a “false positive,” since I had no family history of breast cancer. (I later learned that the majority of new breast cancer diagnoses each year have no family history of breast cancer, a fact I am now sharing with anyone who will listen.) Several biopsies later, it became clear that I had breast cancer.
But then I got the “good news” – this new machine had detected my cancer at very early Stage 1. It was so early and so tiny that I never could have found it with a self-exam. And the fact that it was early Stage 1 meant that with the right treatment, I had a 100% chance of survival.
People without health insurance are not this lucky. Most don’t have the means to get a mammogram in the first place. By the time their cancer is detected, it’s already advanced to a later stage with a lower chance of survival. In fact, women without health insurance coverage face a 30-50% higher likelihood of dying from breast cancer than I did. I couldn’t imagine having to share that kind of survival rate news with my children. I realized right then how lucky I was.
That wasn’t the end of it. I began to see the other benefits of having coverage beyond early detection, including regular access to an outstanding care team and the ability to follow their treatment recommendations. My care team helped me to process the shock and disbelief of my diagnosis, providing me with needed emotional support. And they helped me move quickly toward a treatment plan that would ensure the least likely chance of a reoccurrence of cancer. My treatment plan involved surgery, further testing, and the drugs that I am still taking. It also included physical therapy and ongoing check-ups. I never had to think twice about the recommended treatment path because my insurance covered the costs. This meant I could take all of the precautionary measures.
I can now see how incredible this all was. I benefitted tremendously from having comprehensive insurance coverage. But I knew that was not the case for millions of Americans. So as I was recovering, I renewed my resolve to fight for this coverage for all Americans. I decided to write Marching Toward Coverage so that I could share this and stories like it with more people. In so doing, I hoped to galvanize more people to fight for this cause. With enough of us, we can realize the dream of health care for all.