Megan: A Cancer Diagnosis Shouldn't Mean Financial Strain


My mom became our family's main breadwinner and insurance carrier in 2001. Two years ago this summer, my mom was diagnosed with a recurrence of the breast cancer she originally developed when I was four years old. In 1992, she underwent a bilateral mastectomy. After about five years cancer-free, her health insurance stopped covering visits to the oncologist, and her primary physician stopped ordering routine imaging a few years later.

When my mom was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in 2018, my family was devastated. My mom has a huge tumor in her chest, and the cancer is too advanced for radiation or surgical removal. Oral chemotherapy was prescribed to hopefully slow the spread of the cancer and prolong her life a few years. My parents felt immense grief and anger at the loss of the retirement that they had dreamed of and their hopes for the future.
In the wake of the diagnosis, my family operated in crisis mode for about one year as we learned to navigate the cancer journey alongside my mom. That year was a total blur and mess of emotions, and now the cancer experience has become our new normal. What has been more painful for me than the idea of losing my mother and witnessing my father's grief has been witnessing the injustice and cruelty of our nation's health care system. For months after my mom's diagnosis, nearly every surface in my parents' kitchen, dining room, and living room was covered with medical bills and financial documents. My mom's health insurance was tied to her employment and she was still a few years away from qualifying for Medicare.

When working full-time became too much, she went on disability, and now that disability has run out, she pays a high monthly premium for Cobra coverage. My mom's biggest concern at this point is that when she turns 65 next spring and applies for Medicare, her cancer treatment costs may not be covered if the provision in Obamacare that requires insurance companies to provide coverage for preexisting medical conditions is repealed. Her oral chemotherapy costs $12,0000 per month.

Watching my parents struggle with anxiety over finances, health care costs, insurance coverage, and fear of bankruptcy as my mother fights for her life against cancer has motivated me to join the fight to end the inhumane and unaffordable system of health care in the United States. In the midst of sadness, I am learning from my mother what bravery and strength look like, and how to keep on living with purpose in the midst of pain and sorrow.