08/23/2010 11:34 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cancer, Basil Marceaux and Tennessee's "Goober"natorial Spectacle

After the phone rang three times last week with family members snickering about Basil Marceaux and the political race in Tennessee, I sat down to ponder the peculiarity of the gubernatorial spectacle in my state. That some pundits were referring to it as the 'goober'natorial offers a clue as to how silly Tennessee looked in the news.

The comic relief that was provided by Marceux these past few weeks (whether intentional or not) distracted from the fact that there were few substantive differences between any of the candidates.

Marceaux's bizarre campaign ads and embarrassing appearances on national television shows like Jimmy Kimmel Live were like witnessing a drunken--and perhaps grief stricken uncle--stripped down to his underwear while singing the Star Spangle Banner at a funeral. Even though most everyone winces at the inappropriateness of the behavior, many are secretly relieved for the entertainment.

While contemplating this theater of the absurd, I received three disturbing phone calls within the same time period about three different friends--all whom have been diagnosed with varying stages of breast cancer.

Instantly the gravity of the governor's race was crystalized. Because all three women are now fighting for their lives, healthcare coverage and the ability to afford treatment will be an issue that dominates their lives over the next several years. And it could very well mean life or death.

One friend has stage four cancer and minimal insurance, one has no insurance at all and the other has the best money can buy. Regardless, all will experience the threat of cancer differently, in part because of their economic status.

Three years ago last week I began chemotherapy and radiation for stage IV uterine cancer and for nearly a year I lived on my purple couch in between treatments.
As I peeked my head above the covers after recovering from this brutal regimen, I was blindsided by the financial debt accumulated through treatment.

Before the surgical scars had a chance to heal, I learned that sixty-two percent of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were linked to medical expenses-- according to a nationwide study by the American Journal of Medicine-- nearly 20 percentage points higher than reported in 2001.

Of those who filed for bankruptcy in 2007, nearly 80 percent had health insurance. Respondents who reported having insurance indicated average expenses of just under $18,000. Those facing cancer treatments without health insurance can look forward to bills exceeding $100,000.

Most recently a study reported that 49% of Americans facing foreclosure are doing so because of medical debt. I was one of them. Fortunately for me, the impending foreclosure coincided with the Obama plan that forced lending institutions to lower mortgage rates for those paying high interest rates as a result of the sub prime mortgage extravaganza. It also helped that I live in TN Congressman, Jim Cooper's district. He advocated on my behalf and I got to keep my home.

Although I am one of the lucky ones, I am not blind enough to believe that my access to people in high places didn't make all the difference. It did. And although saving ones' home from foreclosure shouldn't take an act of congress, for many it has.

In spite of all the snickering at Marceaux's expense, this election is no joke when it comes to healthcare. And now that it has been narrowed down to two candidates, it is imperative to listen a bit more closely to what isn't being said.

Republican Bill Haslam says he "will pursue every available option in order to prevent the damaging impact of federal healthcare legislation on our state" and Democrat Mike McWherter claims he "will work against unfunded federal mandates."

What is particularly frightening is that both candidates talk more about what they are against rather than what they are 'for' and both seem to pander to those who may or may not identify as conservative elitists. And neither seems overly unconcerned about the uninsured.

While the election coverage these past several weeks has been both embarrassing and mildly entertaining, we no longer have Marceaux to distract us from the serious issues facing thousands of Tennesseans.

Hearing of my friends diagnosis', I am reminded how excruciatingly painful and all consuming it can be to fight for one's life and how most oncologists insist that in addition to treatment, the recipe for healing and recovery involves staying 'stress free'. Not an easy formula when facing a box full of bills that you have no means to pay--and are threatened with losing your home.

In the coming months I expect to receive several phone calls with pre-recorded messages from Haslam and McWherter's campaign asking for my vote. Hopefully, one of them will be able to articulate a position that makes it clear that they understand (or care) whether or not my friends in treatment end up in bankruptcy or foreclosure.

Molly Secours is a writer/filmmaker/speaker living in Nashville TN