2013-05-23 / Telling It Like It Is

Telling It Like It Is

Like Celebrities, Will We Be Able To Save Our Lives?
By Dara Mormile

What if you had enough money to buy a possible cure for cancer? What if you had enough money saved so that if your loved one is stricken with cancer, you wouldn't have to go through health insurance agencies, referrals and the hassle of inadequate medical systems that many impoverished communities have to deal with?

It occurred to me last week when news broke that Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of getting breast cancer, that many who are rich enough to prolong their lives are soon going to make us normal folk feel helpless.

Good for Angelina for recognizing and confirming with the public that her family has a history of cancer. And she is brave for practically butchering herself to avoid getting the disease. As a woman, I agree that it was in her best interest to take any measures - as drastic as they were - to prevent cancer from forming in her breasts - and soon, her ovaries. But is this going too far - and what about regular women and men, like us locals in the community, who want to know if our chances of getting cancer can be reduced by choosing to remove the most susceptible body parts or organs?

Many might say, in a religious sense, that when we fall terminally ill and it's time to go - it's just God's way of making us fight until the end. Removing organs to spite cancer seems ingenious, but there are a wide range of challenges the body must undergo afterward. Whether it's against every spiritual or moral fiber of their being, how many ordinary people would be brave enough to undergo the knife and who can afford everything that comes with this prevention measure?

It's not a problem for Angelina, a mother of six. She's a multi-million dollar star with a gorgeous, supportive hubby by her side. For someone like myself, who has a long family history of cancer on my father's side, having an average income, no health insurance and hundreds of dollars in monthly expenses could be the death of me! My father may have passed away of esophageal cancer, but my father's sisters also developed various cancers. Thank goodness, my mother is healthy at this point in her life and I haven't felt panicked enough to get genetic tests to see what my genes reveal.

But do you know how much it costs to have a genetics test to start this screening process? If you don't have insurance, it could be $300 to $3,000. According to Breastcancer.org, some health insurance companies cover genetic testing. Some medical centers also offer free cancer screenings for atrisk individuals - which is critical in many communities where cancer resources are scarce. Those who don't have insurance and find out that they're at risk for cancer are - let's face it -– screwed! Your average workingclass Canarsien might not have the luxury Angelina had of undergoing countless tests and then having a medical team of experts preparing for her mastectomy.

Many who don't have health insurance are already scared of what will happen if and when they get sick! Sure, head to your local hospital if you have an emergency, but the bills will roll in and you're then expected to follow up with a regular physician or specialist to monitor whatever condition with which you've been diagnosed.

Following a few emergency room visits, I've had to go to costly specialists and take expensive tests and medications. I was grateful to be treated even though I didn't have health insurance, but if I were as rich as Angelina, I'd be at a different doctor every week checking out tons of other things that might be wrong with me.

Have insurance? If you've ever been to your doctor - and received a referral from your insurance company for a procedure or test - you know what a hassle it could be. Some insurance companies will turn you down for something like a colonoscopy or body scan - claiming that it's “not necessary.” Can you afford to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for procedures which insurance companies believe have no bearing on your longevity? Who are insurance companies to deny your right to any medical test that could save your life? If only we were all as financially well off as Branjelina, think how healthy we would be!

Ironically, before I finished writing this column, I read about the New Jersey teacher, Debbie Gentile-Abbood, who said Angelina's actions “upset her.” The teacher told the New York Post, “That's good for her; she's got the best health care and she's got money. She doesn't have to worry about taking off from work. She doesn't have to worry about taking care of her family, cooking or cleaning - the things that the normal woman would have to do.”

Is this 51-year-old right in her assessment that the reconstructive surgery, which the Post says can cost more than $20,000 out-of-pocket, isn't an achievable goal for middle-class women carrying the breast cancer gene? I agree with Gentile-Abbood's argument about the false hope provided by Angelina's story, but I can't say that I'm upset because another woman, notably drooled over by millions of males worldwide, can afford to reduce her cancer risk.

In short, hearing about a stars' ability to fight cancer before it even struck is a reminder of how unfortunate so many people are in reality. If it were just that easy for everyone to lance off a part of their body where they're statistically most likely to get cancer, a lot of women would be waiting in line to have various organs removed. Many women might be too scared to go through with this type of surgery, and some might object to the feeling of losing their “femininity” in the midst of their cancer battle.

As harsh as this may sound, in my opinion Angelina took the easy way out of fighting cancer so she could live longer (and who doesn't want to?) and not endure what the rest of us have to, such as chemotherapy and radiation. Her story, at the heart of it all, creates unrealistic expectations for those carrying cancerous genes, cancer survivors and their families. If it were that easy to escape cancer, wouldn't everyone whose parents have cancer undergo this surgery? I don't see Angelina Jolie as a strong woman for having her breasts removed, but, rather someone who is using the wealth of her fame because she can afford to. Just think, if you win the lottery, you might be able to afford the removal of all your cancer-prone organs and you will live forever, too!

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