Approximately four years ago, at only 14 years old, I went through one of the most painful experiences of my life. My world was turned upside down when my mother and I were visiting Washington for, what was supposed to be, a lovely family reunion for my cousin’s wedding. During this visit, however, we quickly learned that my beloved aunt had cancer. My mother and I were living in Hawaii at the time, yet we abruptly decided to move to Washington in order to care for my sweet Aunt Annette. My friends and school disappeared in an instant.
Five years prior to this event, Annette was living in Alaska when she had her first bout of cancer. Her husband had a high ranking position working on the pipeline when she was diagnosed – therefore, they had exceptional health insurance. She abided by every command that the doctors’ ordered, including the excruciating process of chemotherapy. She fought hard and she survived. After a few years of poking and prodding at innumerous doctor appointments, she was told that the cancer had finally gone. Her husband retired soon after this miraculous news, and they moved back to Washington to be closer to family.
As time went by, Annette became sick again. Her pain levels increased dramatically and she continued to go back to the doctors for answers. However, this time around, she did not have health insurance. Since her husband retired, they had lost all of their health insurance coverage. It was becoming radically expensive to go from doctor to doctor, looking for answers that the medical professionals were not providing. Thinking she might have gallstones, an ultrasound was eventually performed by my cousin who was in training to become an ultrasound technician at the time. During this procedure, my cousin and the overlooking doctors finally saw what had been causing Annette so much pain – a body full of tumors. She and her husband came home in tears, sharing with my family that Annette had stage four cancer, which had already spread throughout her entire body. The doctors had given my aunt a prognosis of about two to six weeks of life left here on Earth.
Annette and her husband had a significant amount of cash on hand, but the doctors do not look at a cancer patient the same if they do not have health insurance of any kind. My brave aunt even pleaded with the American Cancer Society for help, but the Society responded with a denial to help them simply because they were uninsured. Sadly, all of the help that Annette had on her first round of cancer was completely unavailable since she had no insurance. As a result, my deteriorating aunt and my grief-stricken family had to go through the brutal dance of waiting for death until it came, all the while going into massive debt with hospice care. It was one of the most heart-wrenching and sorrowful events a family can experience, and it had a profound impact on myself and the way that I view insurance.
As a kid, I never really gave much thought as to what having insurance meant. Going through this experience, however, showed me at a young age just how important being insured is. To safely know that no matter what life brings, you and your family will not have to be devastated financially – that is something that those who have always had insurance can tend to take for granted. Insurance (of all kinds) brings a sense of peace to an already distressing, and sometimes fatal, situation. Had Annette and her husband had health insurance throughout those tortuous nine months that led up to her passing, things would have been slightly less painful than they already were.
Having insurance would not only have helped ease the pain for Annette, but it would have also provided support for me and my family. Disasters tend to leave a wake, affecting far more than just one person. To be protected is to have the choices and the power to make healthy decisions. I hope to always have that privilege. These two things, choice and power, are something that my family greatly lacked in this upsetting situation, and something that health insurance would have provided. I am aware that even if Annette had had health insurance during her second battle with cancer, she probably would have still passed away due to the severity of her condition. However, those two important ingredients – choice and power – would have given me and my family a true peace of mind following her death. That is why having insurance is important to me.
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