It was 6 a.m. on September 1, 1991. I was 20 and in a deep sleep in my childhood bedroom. I had come home for a few months and found that there was no comfort like the familiar bed where you've slept your entire life. My sister tapped me on the shoulder gently to wake me up. She whispered in my ear and I jumped out of bed. It was the worst day of my life.
Thousands of memories were flashing through my head, but none as vivid as the day, many years earlier, when I was called out of class in the 6th grade.
I was told by my history teacher to head my counselor's office. He wanted to have a chat. Earlier that week, my mother had told me she had some bad news from the doctor's office. She just received some test results she had been waiting for and learned what she says she already knew. She had breast cancer.
My counselor sat with me for an hour and we talked about what I thought was going to happen to my mother. The whole thing was surreal. Up until that moment, my biggest concern in life was having a good day at baseball practice. I was told that my mother's chances were very good; the cancer was caught in time and although she was going to have a tough road ahead, ultimately she would be just fine.
A year later, after many rounds of chemotherapy and a mastectomy, she battled back and was doing very well. She beat cancer. She switched jobs shortly thereafter and she was always trying to find a job with more flexibility and better wages so she could raise her kids more comfortably.
Needless to say, it was a constant battle – it's not easy raising 4 kids as a single mother. Insurance coverage was very hard to come by because my mom now had a history of cancer – this became what they call a 'pre-existing condition' – easy access to coverage just wasn't going to happen.
Many years later, I was sitting on the couch and talking with my mother in the living room. She had tears in her eyes and reached over to grab my hand. She placed my hand just above her stomach where I felt a very hard knot about the size of a golf ball. The cancer had returned, only this time was different. She had grown so frustrated with her insurance coverage denials that she started to neglect her own health care. She was exhausted and given up even though there may have been other options for her. She wasn't going for regular doctor visits or check-ups. She ignored all the warning signs and the cancer had spread. She was told she would die within the year.
She decided to live her last months in her own home. She opted for hospice care and my sisters and I all moved back into the house to help look after her. We watched as she lost weight, struggled to do everyday tasks, and eventually just started to fade away. She was gaunt, her skin began to yellow and she was starting to forget her own children due to the pain medication she was taking.
"Mom has passed away." I'll never forget those words my sister whispered in my ear. My mother, Rebecca Estrada, was only 49-years-old.
I'm not a Democrat nor a Republican. I think both parties have serious flaws. I'm more of a skeptic by nature. I don't like the backroom deals that go on in congress to have legislation passed. The "what are you going to do for me?" attitude has made our political system so infuriating. It really helps you understand why seven presidents have tried and failed to pass a bill changing our health care system.
But whether you agree or disagree with the health care bill, there is language that I am happy to see. If passed, one can no longer be denied health coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Now, I know, my mother made mistakes and didn't take advantage of many programs that could have helped her, but no one should be denied health coverage because of an illness they've had to fight.
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