Friday, November 02, 2007

November 2, 2007 - Run, Gerry, Run

She was the first woman to achieve a major party’s nomination for Vice President. These days, Geraldine Ferraro is running a race against cancer – and also, a race in favor of expanded health-care coverage for all Americans.

Today I read a recent Newsweek article, “How To Mend a Sick System,” in which Ferraro makes the case for health-care reform.

In the article – which she wrote – she tells a bit of her own cancer story: about how she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a blood cancer, in the same family with leukemia and lymphoma) in 1998. The doctors gave her three to five years to live: an accurate prediction, based on medical treatments available at the time.

Soon after her diagnosis, researchers announced major breakthroughs that changed her life, and the lives of other myeloma patients. Regular infusions Gerry receives have kept her cancer in remission. She’s also had a stem-cell transplant. In this August 31, 2007 interview from the Today Show, she describes how these new medications have made myeloma a chronic disease, rather than the death sentence it once was, not long ago.

(Click on the picture, below, to view the video on the Today Show website...)

Geraldine Ferraro’s cancer battle
Geraldine Ferraro’s cancer battle

The same thing is true, now, of many forms of lymphoma – including the indolent form I now have. There is no cure, but there is hope for a much longer life.

This is true, at least, for those who have medical insurance. As Gerry comments in the Today Show interview, sitting in a chemotherapy-infusion chair: “What bothers me is that what’s available to me is not available to every person who has cancer in this country – and, it should be.”

She tells a story, in the Newsweek article, about a fellow myeloma patient she was talking to on the phone. This man, a retired teacher from Montana, has inadequate insurance:

“[He] explained he was feeling terribly fatigued. When I asked him about his hemoglobin levels (you get to know about this stuff when you have a blood cancer), they were startlingly low. ‘Oh, my God, they're not giving you Procrit or Aranesp or one of the other anemia medicines?’ I asked. ‘No. I can't afford it. It costs $800 a shot,’ he said. He explained that he'd had to devise a cheaper alternative to manage the anemia. ‘I wait until my hemoglobin gets down to seven [that's really low] and then I go to the hospital and get a transfusion, which only costs $50,’ he said.

Is that what this country should be doing to its people? And yet, it happens all the time.”

It does happen all the time – despite what the advocates of small government will tell you.

“Are there no poorhouses? No workhouses? No prisons?” asks the unrepentant Ebenezer Scrooge, at the beginning of A Christmas Carol. “Are there no emergency rooms?” ask those who oppose any move in the direction of universal health care. Well, here’s a guy who – out of economic necessity – is using the emergency room in precisely the way they recommend, only for him it’s like playing Russian roulette. Each time he does this, he’s gambling that his hemoglobin level will fall low enough to get him a transfusion, but not so low that it will kill him first. One day soon, he could very easily wait too long before going in.

I grew up being told I was lucky to have been born in the United States of America, and not in any other country. Until recently, I believed that. The simple facts of this man’s case prove that he, at least, would have been luckier to have been born in Canada, or Britain, or some other country with universal health care. At least he could get the medicine he needs, and avoid playing Russian roulette with blood transfusions.

I say that with a heavy heart, because I consider myself a patriotic American. Yet, until we can marshal the collective will to get our nation’s leaders to stop talking about the health-care funding crisis and do something about it, frightening stories like his are going to continue to be told.

Run, Gerry, run. Keep running, to represent us all in your battle to hold the politicians’ feet to the fire!

No comments: