My mom was named after Vivien Leigh. She started her freshman year at Carnegie Mellon University at 16. She likes Steely Dan, Jill Scott, and Marvin Gaye, but her favorite musician is Ivan Lins. She had a fro in the 70s, and a jeri curl in the 80s. She met her husband (my dad) on a blind date. She makes the best French toast I’ve ever had. She wants to be Tina Turner when she grows up.
My mom has lung cancer. This cancer is terminal. She was diagnosed a year ago. The initial prognosis gave her four to six months, but a couple rounds of chemotherapy, an avalanche of love and support from friends and family, and her own zest for life has allowed her to outpace it. She is, in every sense of the word, a cancer survivor.
My mom’s cancer has metastasized. Her tumors have spread, and there is nothing the doctors can do about that. Her treatment is now directed towards helping her deal with the pain so she can be (relatively) comfortable. This is called “managing symptoms.” She is home, but under hospice care. A nurse comes a few days a week. As does a chaplain. Friends and family come often. I’m there four or five days a week. My sister catches two buses after work to come some days. My dad is always there.
My mom has good days and bad days. On good days she’s able to walk around, cook, water her plants, and even occasionally leave the house. Aside from her weight and hair loss, on good days my mom seems, for lack of a better term, healthy. She even went to church two weekends in a row. On bad days, pain flares up her legs and back, and she is very limited in movement and activity. She needs assistance walking, sitting down, standing, showering, and getting dressed. When this occurs, she takes extra doses of her pain medication. This helps with her pain, but it affects her lucidity.
My mom has more good days than bad days right now. She had a bad day yesterday. Hopefully she’ll have a good one today.
My mom hasn’t been able to work in over a year. She worked as an insurance adjuster for Walgreens before she got sick. Walgreens extended her health benefits for a year. That year recently ended. She applied for an extension. The status of that application is pending. We are confident she’ll receive it.
My mom, a real person living a real life and experiencing real pain, is who I think of when reading and/or watching news about our government shutting down because of one party’s opposition to the president’s universal health care plan. I know how expensive her medication is. Without the aid of insurance, most families—mine included—would not be able to afford it. I also know there are thousands of real people out there—mothers, fathers, daughters, sons—who are experiencing the same type of very real pain, but are uninsured and unable to manage their symptoms. These people do not have many good days.
I will not pretend that I know all of the particulars of the Republican party’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act. It sounds and feels like they’re just opposed to anything President Obama plans to do, but I do not know. I am neither a policy wonk nor a politician. I was in Washington, D.C. last weekend, but I am not an insider. I am, however, a son. A son who has been able to spend some good and some bad days with his mom this year. A son who knows that his mom’s quality of life is directly correlated to how well we’re able to manage her symptoms. A son who wishes to say one thing to those intent on denying American citizens an assurance that our terminally ill loved ones will be able to afford to manage their symptoms as well:
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)