During active treatment, I didn’t have the best health insurance through my job. At the time, I was working in radio sales for a major media company. Due to a technicality when renewing my health insurance and the timing of my breast cancer diagnosis, I wasn’t eligible for paid short-term or long-term disability. Instead of being able to focus on surviving the harsh cancer treatments, which included chemo before surgery and radiation post-surgery, I had no choice but to work and let go of my pride. I started a GoFundMe to help meet my deductible and out-of-pocket expenses and continued paying the medical and regular bills.
I reminded her that I have cancer, not the flu. I literally had poison coursing through my body and trying not to die so I could get back to full working capacity. I felt enormous pressure to work even when I had no strength and fighting severe chemo brain. I also felt deeply hurt. I was not on vacation. I was fighting for my life.
I had to get another major surgery after that first-year post-cancer because my body was unable to tolerate any of the pre-menopausal medications needed to help prevent a recurrence. Two months after a radical hysterectomy and oophorectomy in February 2017, I had gotten what I thought was my dream job at a major advertising agency in downtown Atlanta. I was thrilled and finally made the salary I needed with major responsibilities. I had felt ready and thought it would be a huge step forward in my career.
I had underestimated the effect of having another major surgery on top of healing from breast cancer. The chemo brain I thought I had overcome came back in full force. My work began to decline. I had notified my new bosses that I was a cancer survivor and recovering from another major surgery right at the start of my job. Instead of supporting me and developing ways to help manage my workload as I tried to heal, these two women told me, “You need to keep your health and work separate.” It was another slap in the face.
Too many employers don’t understand the toll any type of cancer can have on a person’s physical and mental health. I also realized how dependent I have now become on health insurance tied to an employer. Though I resigned from that position with the ad agency, it was a blow to me professionally because there was no way to keep my health and career separate anymore. Cancer not only kills the good and bad in the body, but it can also kill careers. It was due to that awful experience that I had decided to not tell any future employer that I was a cancer survivor until after I had been there 90 days.
I had been one of the millions suddenly out of work and stripped of employer-provided health insurance at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020. I had been a marketing project manager with a stellar reputation and nominated for awards, so the layoff came as a shock. My health insurance was ending the day before my latest round of scans, which are scheduled 6 months in advance, to make sure I was still in remission. I will never be able to fully express the stress and anger I felt by having to scramble to push my scans up before losing coverage. There was no offer to even help with my resume or job search. I found that ironic, considering they were a staffing company.
To have health insurance ripped away even without a pandemic causes pure panic for those who utilize it on a regular basis, especially those with cancer and other chronic health conditions that require constant maintenance and medications.