Jul 26

Reflections on Universal Health Care from Someone Whose Sister Just Died of Cancer

After battling a brutal leukemia relapse for six months, my sister passed away this passed May. I like Lance Armstrong, but the reality is that cancer doesn’t always lead to a bunch of Tour de France wins for people.

I did my best to keep my chin up and to stay optimistic. Deep down, I am still incredibly angry and actually debated leaving this country to go somewhere with universal healthcare and a conscience about the environment. Here’s why.

When we think of cancer, we think of Lance Armstrong on the bike. We don’t think about a severely swollen 41 year old single mom with blisters with the diameter of a softball, who can’t get out of her bed for six months. My sister’s blood platelet count was so low, she bit her lip softly and it started to bleed. When a nurse went to brush her teeth with a small sponge, her gums bled. Anti-fungal drugs made her hallucinate about bugs and gave her dreams that Obama was going to get shot. Her skin was jaundiced and her eyes were yellow. She sometimes would cough up stuff that was so black, it was hard to conceive it coming from a human body. In the months before her death, she had both a tracheotomy and was on oxygen. She was restrained to the bed and at several points, I had to prevent her from disconnecting her oxygen and killing herself because the drugs did crazy things to her head. I felt like I was facilitating torture against my own sister. There was absolutely no dignity to the way she died and I was happy she finally passed because she wasn’t suffering anymore.

So frequently, I would be in her in room and I’d want to take a picture of her. I wanted to send that picture to Monsanto and all of the other companies creating sketchy products, as well as to big pharma that seems more driven to treat cancer than to cure it. I wanted to send it to the politicians who permit healthcare to be a business. What happened to Deb has happened to millions of people and could just as easily happen to them. I refrained because I wanted to maintain Deb’s dignity.

My sister didn’t just die of cancer. She died of a lack of hope. Even if she had been cured, there’s no way any employer would want to deal with her health care costs. Doctors would have thrown every drug her way, and each of these drugs would have some weird side effect. Her life would be inundated with paperwork. For every Lance Armstrong, there are millions more who suffer in fear of a relapse and the absolutely barbaric treatment associated with cancer.

I asked my sister before she died, and she did support universal health care. She believed people should not have to worry about whether their treatment would be covered or not because they should just focus on getting better. I’m not faulting Lance Armstrong by any stretch, but we don’t all have big companies like Nike backing us up when we get sick.

My endorsement of universal health care comes with a huge caveat though. I want Americans, non-profits associated with cancer, and politicians to seriously look at the carcinogenic effects of the American lifestyle. Right now we are consuming foods that have been sprayed with Roundup, which is known to cause severe health effects and avoided in many parts of the world. We eat chickens and turkeys that are given hormones to make them so big they can’t even walk. We drink milk from cows that are given hormones to produce more milk. What do you think happens to these hormones and chemicals? You are what you eat–remember?

I am tired of politicians protecting companies that poison us and Americans who turn a blind eye to all of this. Ask the people of Aniston, Mississippi about the devastating effects of pollution on their community and ask them how the legal system left them astray. These people were hit hard by Monsanto’s pollution, but what are the effects of a little pollution to everyone over the course of a lifetime? The Native Americans understood the connection between the land, air, and water they surrounded themselves with and their own personal well-being. We are turning a blind eye to the horrible things companies are doing to our food and to our land and we are paying the price.

Cancer isn’t a business. It is something that is killing us and destroying our quality of life. IT’S NOT JUST HEREDITARY, PEOPLE. There are second world countries who have longer life expectancies than ours. We spend more per person on health care and yet people in Andorra and 43 other nations live longer than we do. We are poisoning ourselves as a nation, and to avoid a tax burden to us all through universal health care, we really need to take back our land and our food from the corporations that control it first.