Spike’s story read at SHINE in Santa Monica on March 21, 2013:
Nobody thinks they’re going to get cancer. I especially thought I’d never get cancer because I’m such a wuss about bodily decay, germs, and anything having to do with hospitals. I had always believed that that would never be my fate because I’m just not cut out to have cancer.
And then I got cancer. I found a lump in my right breast during a routine self examination in the summer of 2011. Because I was temporarily uninsured at the time, I talked myself into believing it was a symptom of menopause and found everything that I was looking for to support my self diagnosis on the internet.
At my annual pap exam in October, my gynecologist felt the lump and without hesitation said, “That’s got to come out right away”.
That’s when the crazy train left the station.
A whirlwind of tests soon followed, all paid for with cash, to confirm what I had feared all along. I had cancer.
When you get told you have cancer, your mind immediately jumps to the worst case scenario. “My kids! What about my kids! Will they be doomed to watch me die a slow and gruesome death just because I don’t have health insurance?”
I went into shock. I’ve always been the kind of person who has managed to consistently land on her feet, but not this time. I fell into a black hole and kept falling. I have never been so scared in my life.
Like most people who just find out they have cancer, I asked myself, “Why me?”
A good friend, and fellow nonprofit leader in Los Angeles, Becky Constantino, jumped in to do my thinking for me. She did some online research and discovered that I qualified for PCIP insurance, a program for people with pre-existing conditions that had already gone into effect through the Affordable Care Act. My life would be saved by Obamacare.
Out of gratitude, I wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times to publicly thank my president and to let others who were sick who had been denied treatment by the health insurance companies know about PCIP. My husband and I decided to out ourselves as the new face of the uninsured – middle class, hard working, active in our community. We are anything but free loading deadbeats.
The Atlantic Wire picked up my story which took it all across the country in a matter of minutes. Talk radio was all abuzz, talking about me, Obamacare, and of course, the demise of the America our forefathers supposedly envisioned.
I had become famous. Not for my work as an artist or as a nonprofit leader, but for being uninsured.
The next day my story made its way around the globe, in different languages, via the internet. People in Canada and Europe were fascinated with my story. They wanted to know why Americans trashed their health care systems, why Americans knew so little about the Affordable Care Act, why health care is even a political issue, and why we’re so mean to each other.
I could answer all but why we’re so mean to each other. Some of the people who called into radio shows and commented online were the shame of our nation– those who proudly defend their ignorance and prejudice, while spewing vile hate speech over the airwaves and internet in the name of our first amendment.
More people were for than against me and my piece. They too believed that health care in America should be a benefit of citizenship and not a product to be consumed, leaving anyone who can’t afford it without it.
“Thank you for being brave and telling your story”’
“Please keep speaking out”
“Your story is my story. Thank you”
“Please know that there are many Americans who are behind you 100%”
Those who were opposed let me know it. Some accused me of being some sort of opportunist, a hypocrite, or an agent for Obama.
“Why should I have to pay for your cancer care when you’re so irresponsible? I hope get what you deserve”.
“You want to thank Obama for saving your life? Thank me! I’m paying for it, not him!”
“I hope you die”
“People like you are what is wrong with this country”
What kind of a person would go out of their way to express such hatred towards a complete stranger at the lowest point in her life? Who would put themselves on record for wishing a total stranger dead? Most likely they were the same people who called Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute, or the ones that said that Trayvon Martin had it coming to him. Perhaps they are the same people who are accusing liberals of making too much out of Sandy Hook, or the group that publicly condemns gay Americans as being some sort of abomination. Or maybe they’re of the collective mind that believes that all poor people are lazy. We all know who they are – the people who refer to our constitution without actually having read it. The arrogant hypocrites who blame victims for their own misfortunes and take credit for their own good luck.
My story took me all the way to Washington DC. I told it over and over for three days on radio, TV and in a press conference on the steps of the Supreme Court. When I wasn’t telling my story I was napping in the chapel next to the Supreme Court where Martin Luther King used to preach.
Cancer treatment may be over. But my story is not. I will keep telling it over and over, to anybody who will listen, so that I can help shine a light on the dark shadows of our culture, calling out the politicians who are responsible for cultivating and exploiting the worst in us. I will continue to confront the haters, bigots and idiots who rant anonymously online or on the radio. I won’t do it anonymously, though. I will be in their face.
The world is watching. By telling my story over and over, I hope to be able to answer for the rest of the world the questions that it has been asking of us:
“Why does America trash all other health care systems? Why do Americans know so little about the Affordable Care Act? Why is health care a political issue? And why are Americans so mean to one other?”
Now that I’ve gotten through the absolute worst time in my life, I don’t ask myself, “Why me?” I know why. So I can tell my story.
© 2013 Spike Dolomite Ward
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