Tuesday, August 26, 2008

August 26, 2008 - The Lion in Winter

Yesterday evening I turned on C-Span, to watch Ted Kennedy’s speech to the Democratic Convention. I was wondering – as was everyone else watching, whether in the convention center or at home – if these ten minutes or so in the national spotlight could be his swan song as a politician.

Not if Ted has anything to say about it: “I pledge to you that I will be there next January on the floor of the United States Senate when we begin the great test.” The crowd goes wild. They know the adversary he’s up against. They know he may not be able to keep that promise, but they honor him for making it. They are in awe of his grit and determination.

“For me this is a season of hope,” Ted continues, “new hope for a just and fair prosperity for the many, and not just for the few – new hope. And this is the cause of my life – new hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American – north, south, east, west, young, old – will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.”

“The cause of my life,” he says: health care for all. When the speaker has brain cancer and has been given just months to live, “the cause of my life” takes on a dimension that goes beyond mere rhetoric. Sadly, the Senator’s own health situation will prevent him from seeing the cause through to completion (note the sober realism of “when we begin the great test”). Even if this aging lion is still standing on the floor of the Senate in January, the day will come soon enough when others will step into his leadership role. Maybe he’ll be able to hang on long enough to see, if not outright victory, then at least the inevitability of success.

What do people see, when they look at this man standing before the microphone, and hear him give a speech filled with the typical Kennedy passion, but now at a lower intensity, befitting his medical condition? Do they see an accomplished orator and a leader of his party and nation? Or do they see a guy with cancer? Probably a bit of both. Cancer is an inescapable reality. For better or for worse, it quickly becomes a part of who we are.

And so, when the camera pans out to capture the faces of the crowd, we see more than a few tears being wiped away, among the delegates. It’s the party faithful out there in the bleachers, the true believers. They’re passionate about the cause, yes. But they also have personal affection for their leaders. This man’s illness has already become part and parcel of his message.

The other day, I was talking with a woman who’s been diagnosed with follicular, B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the same kind I now have. She has no medical insurance, and she’s too young for Medicare by a few years. She’s had blood tests, but she can’t get a bone marrow biopsy. The out-of-state specialty lab wanted thousands of dollars in cash up front, and she can’t afford it. She could have used a credit card, but she and her retired husband decided that, on their limited income, it was too great a financial risk.

The type of lab analysis her oncologist wants her to have is beyond the expertise of a local hospital. If it were, the hospital could probably have written off part of the expense as charity care. I suppose she could go to a regional cancer center that has its own in-house, advanced lab – one that could perhaps likewise extend an offer of charity care – but that would involve getting new doctors and traveling some distance. I’m not sure this frail woman, leaning on her walker, is up to that.

Here is an example of one of the gaping holes in our healthcare-funding system, one that could have life-threatening implications.

This sort of thing should not happen in a civilized country. If Senator Kennedy has his way, it won’t happen much longer.

For the full, 8-minute text of Kennedy’s address, click below:


Anonymous said...

I am also a pastor (United Methodist) with cancer (Signet Ring Adenocarcenoma of the Appendix). I stumbled across your blog in a link from "Appendix Cancer Survivor". I'm nine months out from surgery, and while I'm doing well physically, the prognosis for this type of cancer is terrible. Incurable actually. I read as much of your blog as I could sneak in here at work today - I especially appreciated the comments in an earlier post about ambitions and ambivalence. Hear hear! Thank you for your reflections - it is good to run across a kindred spirit.
Karen Ebert

Carl said...

Karen, so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. My cancer, too, is considered incurable, but they say it's "incurable but treatable." I hope and pray yours is remaining at bay, and that you - like me - are free of symptoms, or at least reasonably so.

Grace and peace.