The tumor they found in her right breast is small, but it’s rocking her world. “I can’t afford time off work,” she said. “And I won’t be able to pay for breast reconstruction.”
The fact that my friend is more worried about money than survival in the face of a cancer diagnosis is maddening. How the hell did we get to this place? The fact that a curable diagnosis can have such a devastating impact shows how screwed up our healthcare system is.
When she told me her news, I had a vision of the hand grenade that landed on my own financial security when I got my diagnosis. All my life, I’ve been a careful saver, and in that moment, the payoff of my sacrifices evaporated.
My breast cancer diagnosis coincided with the onset of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and five years later, I’m still looking at piles of unpaid bills. The new law canceled my family’s existing insurance coverage and replaced it with a new plan. No doctors took the new plan, however, and none of the codes that receptionists typed into the computer were accepted.
What made things worse for my family is that my husband and I are self-employed. For that reason, safety nets like disability benefits and paid family leave are not available to us. At the time, we lived in a rural area. Our town, with its population of 900 people, has spectacular walnut orchards, but not a single oncologist. When we moved there, we weren’t thinking about cancer.
The most immediate blow came right after my mammogram. A nu