Last week, I received a call asking if I could speak at a health-care reform press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Washington.
I readily agreed but spent most of the plane ride the next day wrestling with how one sums up a cancer experience in three minutes.
Five years ago, as a fairly healthy, writer/filmmaker, I purchased a catastrophic health insurance policy. As a self-employed, single woman, it was the smart and the responsible thing to do. With a high deductible and less than optimal prescription coverage, friends joked that it was my "in-case-I-get-hit-by-a-bus policy."
Two years ago last month, I was hit by the "bus," after hearing the three most terrifying words in America: "You have cancer."
When I finally found my tongue, the first words were "but I can't afford to have cancer." Never mind that it was stage 4 uterine cancer and had spread to the lymph nodes, requiring an immediate, radical hysterectomy or that it would require a harrowing chemotherapy cocktail with radiation for six to eight months.
The chemo cocktail called for anti-nausea drugs that were not covered by my insurance and were nearly $500 a round. One immune-building shot, which I was told is standard protocol for chemo patients, cost nearly $6,000. Realizing I would need five of these, I nearly passed out.
I survived because of several benefits put on by committed friends and Nashville community members, and my mortgage was paid during my illness — although the medical debt continued to build.
Last fall, less than a year into remission, I began to fall behind in the bills and found myself in a battle with a subprime lender, who wanted to foreclose rather than lower the mortgage interest on a customer who had never missed a payment during chemo.
Once again, the community rallied and only because of the doggedness of the local press, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper's Nashville staff and the Obama recovery plan did the lender agree to restructure the loan.
It shouldn't take an act of Congress for someone who has cancer to keep their house; yet, in my case, it did. And what about the 47 million uninsured who may not have access to press or live in a beloved community?
As I celebrate 15 months in remission, I am aware continued recovery depends on keeping the stress low as I chip away at tens of thousands of dollars my health insurance doesn't cover.
Recently, my health-insurance rate has nearly doubled and my monthly medication expenses exceed $500. And because of having cancer, there are no other insurance choices for me. I am a marked woman.
Health-care reform is the only way people like me can receive adequate care without being fiscally and physically ruined by a cancer diagnosis.
When I arrived in the Capitol, we were greeted by Pelosi and her staff. I must have looked a bit nervous as we shook hands. "Just tell your story" was all the instruction I received. And so I did.
Molly Secours is a Nashville writer, filmmaker and speaker.