1993. October. My mother phoned me to tell me she had breast cancer. I was devastated. My family was poor, had no insurance and could not afford the $15,000 initial surgery. She had put off checking that lump she knew was there because we could not afford the doctor’s visit, and when she finally went, we were informed that she needed a mastectomy and the surgery would not be performed unless we had the money.
I grew up in Wyoming. Backwoods Wyoming. There was no Planned Parenthood. There was no charity hospital. There were no services to help a poor woman with a devastating diagnosis. If we did not have the money—tough. Deal with it.
My grandmother applied to her church for grant money for the surgery—and after a couple of months it was approved. But after the surgery? No money for that. Radiation treatments were going to be $600 a visit—and the radiologist demanded the money up front. That was ¾ of my father’s paycheck. My brother and I could contribute a pittance. We could not afford the treatments, so we saved. It was the only thing we could do.
Months passed without my mother getting the radiation treatment she needed. She finally found a hospital 2½ hours away from our home that did not demand upfront payment for treatment. My mother had to drive herself there and back because my father was a long haul rocket jockey, I did not live nearby, and my brother had to work. We had trouble paying for the gas to get her there, but we managed. She was sick from the treatments. Threw up constantly. Lived off baby formula because that was all she could keep down. She ached constantly, but we could only afford ibuprofen pills to help.
1994. June. My mother died.
No surprise, really. She was sick and we could not afford to make her well again. There was very little help. No one cared that a rural mother of two had cancer. No one cared that it devastated her family to realize that, because of their poverty, they had lost someone so dear to them. Where was this safety net Romney talks about? Nonexistent. There were no charities or otherwise that could help, because our community was too small to support such things. There was no help from government organizations. The local religiously pious either refused to help because cancer is a disease from God used to strike down those who are sinners (because a woman who fervently believed in God and had never in her life drank, smoked, used drugs, swore, etc., was obviously an egregious sinner) or we were the wrong religion, and therefore could not be helped.
My mother is hardly the first, nor will she be the last, person who is forced to suffer and die because our society hates the poor. It's aggravating that organizations who are supposed to help people like her are more interested in agendas that have nothing to do with breast cancer, or cancer in general. No. They prefer to yank funding to those who need it most because it makes them feel morally superior. A few poor women might die? So what. They’ll go to heaven, right, so who cares? They were probably lazy and incompetent anyway, so good riddance.
The Komen scandal has hit me hard. It has brought all the grief and anger and disgust right back. And it reminds me that my father supports the right-wing agenda despite the fact their policies helped rip his wife away from him at the ripe ol’ age of 52. He hates Planned Parenthood, even though they help women like my mother, because he is told to do so. He hates the thought of socialized medicine, even if it might have saved my mother’s life. He grieved for 10 years before he began to live again, and when people with his experience support the very thing that denied their loved one a life, you begin to realize that the fight for universal health care coverage is far, far tougher than you can imagine.