A version of this post also appeared on Medium
I sit here, exhausted, almost unable to write after my first round of immunotherapy and radiation treatments for my second recurrence of a high-grade anaplastic oligodendroglioma (read: brain cancer). I see my friends actively participating in our democratic process: campaigning, phone banking, getting out the vote. Yet I feel helpless. As the fatigue of cancer therapies chain me to my couch, an election approaches that may very well determine my fate and the fate of approximately fifty-two million Americans living with a pre-existing condition (1). To all those eligible to vote on November 6th — and especially anyone wavering on whether or not to go to the polls: I implore you to go out and vote. Vote as if lives depend on you. They do.
On March 25th, 2017 I was diagnosed with my second recurrence of brain cancer. After an awake brain surgery and a failed attempt at an experimental treatment, I am currently undergoing an approach that has never been attempted before. The hope is to slow down the growth of an inoperable tumor that I have watched evolve, invade, and spread throughout the part of my brain that controls movement on my right side.
Within less than a year, my healthcare has amounted to almost $500,000. I’ve paid $8,246. Not only am I a brain cancer patient, but I am also a twenty-seven-year-old medical student in a joint program between UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. I am privileged that my school’s insurance has covered my healthcare expenditures, but the structure of our current insurance system means that I — along with millions of others receiving insurance through their school or place of employment — continue to face a major dilemma: to receive comprehensive insurance, I must stay healthy enough to remain in school.
Currently, the Affordable Care Act ensures that if I leave school, I cannot be denied insurance based on my pre-existing conditions. Though it may be difficult to find an insurance plan that will cover the treatments I need, I would be able to find some form of coverage. However, even this tenuous measure of protection is in jeopardy: if the Republicans retain control of Congress, politics, not cancer, will determine my fate.
I have been living with a brain tumor practically my entire life. After I was first diagnosed at the age of twelve, I underwent surgery that left me in the hospital for over a month relearning how to walk, followed by years of intensive rehabilitation. When I had my first recurrence at the age of twenty-four, I went through six weeks of proton beam radiation as well as a year-and-a-half of chemotherapy. Since I was under twenty-six years old, the Affordable Care Act granted me the privilege to remain on my parent’s insurance, the reason I am still here today to write to you. Now, I can no longer rely on my parents.
My story is just one of millions. It is important for me to acknowledge that I have been fortunate to receive some of the best access to medical care available in our country. I am privileged with the opportunity to be in school, to afford the yearly tuition, and to come from a family who can likely support me should I have to drop out of school.
Most of those with pre-existing conditions do not have this degree of privilege. What about the other 700,000 people in this country living with a brain tumor (2)? What about the estimated 15.5 million cancer survivors in the United States (3)? Cancer does not discriminate along the political spectrum. Pre-existing conditions affect us all: your mother, brother, daughter, friend, neighbor. Everyone at some point will have or will know someone who has a form of cancer or another pre-existing condition.
Though Republican politicians have long worked to repeal or otherwise dismantle the ACA, some have started to defend select portions of the Act. For example, in the Missouri Senate race, the Republican candidate Josh Hawley has stated that he wants to protect patients with high healthcare costs. However, actions speak louder than words: as Attorney General of Missouri, Mr. Hawley has sued to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In addition, many Republicans continue to advocate for legislation that experts say would give insurance companies leeway to deny coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions. These examples illustrate that even as Republicans claim to support patients with pre-existing conditions, they have continued to work to undermine the measures that guarantee that protection (4).
November 6th marks a critical juncture in the ongoing dispute over healthcare reform. To protect those with pre-existing conditions, we must vote for candidates who have a clear track record of supporting the Affordable Care Act.
Every month, I watch my tumor continue to grow. I do not know if the experimental treatment I am on will work, but I would rather keep trying than have my fate determined by countless political attempts to dismantle the ACA.
I urge you to vote on November 6th. My life, and millions of others, depend on you.
1. Estimated Number of Nonelderly Adults with Declinable Pre-existing Conditions under Pre-ACA Practices. Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation. [Online] https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/estimated-number-of-non-elderly-adults-with-declinable-pre-existing-conditions-under-pre-aca-practices/?currentTimeframe=0&selectedRows=%7B%22wrapups%22:%7B%22united-states%22:%7B%7D%7D%7D&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22.
2. Brain Tumor Facts. National Brain Tumor Society. [Online] http://braintumor.org/brain-tumor-information/brain-tumor-facts/.
3. Cancer Statistics. National Cancer Institute. [Online] https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/understanding/statistics.
4. To Rally Voters, Democrats Focus on Health Care as Their Closing Argument. The New York Times. [Online] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/28/us/politics/health-care-elections-democrats.html.