A person’s insurance is crucial in determining what kind of care they will receive. Being insured comes with more treatments, options, and at times a higher quality of care. On the other hand, being uninsured comes with a lot of uncertainty, especially regarding what options are available to you. Andrea Johnson is well aware of the difference between the two.
In 2016, Andrea noticed a lump in her breast which she initially dismissed until she saw another. When she originally went to the hospital after noticing the lump, her doctor scheduled her for a mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy, all within a week, because they were concerned with the results of each. After the biopsy, her doctor gave her a package and scheduled her to see a surgeon who told her she had been diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. After a diagnosis, her surgeon and oncologist explained to her what everything meant and her treatment plan.
With a diagnosis and plan in place, Andrea had a double mastectomy in January 2017. She elected to have both breasts removed to mitigate the chance of cancer returning, followed by reconstructive surgery. Andrea underwent chemotherapy for the rest of the year and took the chemo pills as instructed. By the end of the year, she was cancer free.
Although Andrea’s chemotherapy made her sick, she pushed herself to work. As a mother of two and a grandmother, Andrea is naturally a caring person. She enjoyed working as a CNA and being able to help others, so even though it was a struggle at the time, she wanted to work.
Since she was employed, she had employer-sponsored health insurance throughout her cancer diagnosis. Being insured made her process of recovery smooth. She received all the care and treatments she needed without any complications. However, things were much different the second time around.
Unfortunately, Andrea was diagnosed with cancer again in 2021, and at the time, she still had insurance. The subsequent steps and treatment would be different from her last diagnosis. She did not require surgery this time. Her doctor explained that he couldn’t remove the cancer. They would have to hit it hard with chemotherapy and treatment. Andrea’s doctor was straightforward and honest, telling her that the therapy would make her so sick that she could not work. She was encouraged to start getting FMLA and other assistance programs together.
Andrea began her first treatment for her second fight with cancer on November 2, and she immediately began to feel sick. She found eating and drinking difficult and lost weight, but her doctor wanted her to continue her treatments to get better.
As Andrea continued her treatments, she began to feel weaker and weaker. After each treatment, she’d be sick until a day or two before the subsequent treatment. It began to be difficult for her to breathe. Any movement made her feel dizzy. She began to find it easier to stay in one spot because of the treatments’ impact on her. She lost 20 pounds in two weeks, lost her hair, and treatment caused her skin to get darker. She could see the difference in herself, putting her in a dark place.
While she was in the middle of her second battle with cancer, her job called to inquire about when she would return. Andrea told them the truth – she had no idea when she’d be healthy enough. Sometime later, they called Andrea in for a meeting, where she reiterated how sick she was. Shortly after, Andrea received a call from her job alerting her that a termination letter was coming. Andrea broke into tears because she knew this meant she was also losing her insurance.
Andrea was still getting treatments and knew keeping her insurance was essential to her recovery. They gave her the option to keep her insurance, but it came at $600 a month, which was too much for her to afford.
As Andrea was on her way to her next treatment, she received a call notifying her that she couldn’t come since she was uninsured. With no insurance, the doctor’s office gave her a number to call to get assistance to continue her treatments. Due to her circumstances, the representative gave her the help she needed to push her application through immediately.
Andrea could resume her treatments but had to go to a different clinic. However, she was able to complete her treatments and see improvement in her condition. She had to apply for Medicaid; even then, specific scans and medications she needed were not covered.
Andrea’s double encounters with cancer were very different experiences. Without insurance, Andrea felt like she didn’t matter. Having cancer or any illness, for that matter, is enough to worry about. It would help if you didn’t have to be burdened with getting treatment because you can’t afford it or do not have insurance.