Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I did not know how blessed I was to have my health, and I certainly did not realize how fortunate I was to have an excellent benefit plan, including health insurance, through my employer. Over the course of the past five years, I have had thirty radiation treatments and three surgeries; I have lost count of the number of chemotherapy treatments that I have undergone. For about two and a half years, I have been infusing every Monday and taking chemo pills Tuesday through Friday. On Sunday, I take a shot to boost my immune system for another round the following week. The course of this treatment is indefinite.
The side-effects can be worse sometimes than the cancer. I do not know how I could have made it without nausea and pain medication. I have had a lot of complications, resulting in multiple hospitalizations. Complications have varied from having no immune system coupled with a virus to losing my ability to eat and digest food for seven weeks. The latter was so bad that I was dependent on Total Parenteral Nutrition ("TPN") in order to meet my nutritional requirements. There have been times when I have needed round the clock care. I have been fortunate that I have been able to move in with my parents or have family and friends to stay during those times so my husband could continue to work.
I am fortunate to have been able to, and continue to, receive excellent health care without losing my home in the process. I enjoy quality of life by not having to live in constant pain and with constant nausea. I have peace of mind in knowing that if God decides to call me to Him through this disease, I am eligible for hospice so I can pass on peacefully and in dignity.
Cancer is not a respecter of people in whom it impacts, and there are others out there who are suffering terribly. For many Americans, including those who had careers and jobs, this disease has a devastating financial impact. Some patients have to skip treatments and doctors' appointments because they do not have money for gas, parking or a babysitter. Some patients are covered for the chemotherapy treatments but have no coverage for pain and nausea medication and have to go without it. Some patients have feeding tubes, but cannot afford liquid nutrition in order to simply meet their daily nutritional needs.
There are some specialized programs in the country where patients can go for treatment, but are unable to do so because they cannot pay for travel and lodging. There are situations where one spouse needs to take care of the other spouse resulting in no income being brought into a household. This has sometimes resulted in families facing foreclosure and bankruptcy and choosing between food or moving into a homeless shelter. Sometimes benefit plans expire, but the disease stubbornly continues in its quest to kill.
When I see these situations, I cannot help but think to myself "but for the grace of God, there go I."
I work with a foundation that helps patients in addressing these problems. People of all races, faiths, socio-economic backgrounds, and political parties have been amazingly supportive, compassionate, and generous in working together through this organization to help ease and alleviate the suffering of others. Indeed, this diverse group has played a significant role of support in my battle. I have experienced that we, as a people, can show the very best of ourselves in coming to the aid of others. Through our common sense of humanity, our actions can make the difference between life and death for our fellowman.
I sit in a chemo chair every week, and sadly, some of my water cooler friends do not show up the following week, because they have died. Through my own experiences and watching the experiences of others, it is heart-breaking that healthcare has turned into a polarizing political issue. I have seen Americans generously show how much they care about this on a grassroots' level, but somehow many of us have become divided on a national level. No one is impervious to sickness and suffering. Please do not be mistaken that I am advocating to be fiscally irresponsible. I just do not want us to lose our sense of compassion and mercy in the process. Simply put, healthcare is bigger than politics; healthcare is about our common humanity.
Follow Sherri Graves Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@sgravessmith