An avid hiker, a lover of the outdoors, and a proud East Tennessee native, my grandfather was only 59 when cancer took his life. It was a day like any other, as he left for his job as a safety trainer in Kingsport, Tennessee. A few hours in, his strength gave out and he collapsed while on the job. Rushed to an emergency room at Holston Valley Medical Center, it was here that he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Despite our shock and our fears, we immediately prepared for the fight ahead of us.
If you have never had a similar experience, I can share that there really is nothing that can prepare you. In many ways, you feel like you are standing on the edge of a diving board looking down at the water and preparing to jump. Unlike a diving board, however, you can’t pause to take a breath, and you can’t change your mind or turn around. You have no choice but to jump, because the life of someone you love depends on it.
From that day forward, we wasted no time in working to turn a portion of my grandparent’s home into a make-shift hospital room. Moving out the antique furniture, pictures, and curtains, the room seemed so empty and lifeless. In its place, we prepared for a metal table and a hospital bed so that my grandfather could stay at home. He passed away on October 3rd of 2010, approximately four months after his diagnosis.
It was this experience, and others like it, that shaped my view of our country’s healthcare system and pushed me into nearly a decade of fighting for support, funding, and policies related to healthcare access, research, cancer prevention, and treatment. Now, after years of research and study from some of the nation’s top institutions, we can finally say that cancer is not the “end-of-the-line.” With new treatments, resources, and medications, millions of people who are diagnosed with cancer go on to live happy and healthy lives. However, all of this is meaningless if the individuals who need this care are not able to access it.
In a Johnson City Press article from August 12th, the author explored a recent report from the American Cancer Society on the state of cancer related policy in Tennessee. In the report, the organization offers several criticisms of our legislature’s failure to act on healthcare related policies, including Medicaid expansion, which would help ensure healthcare access for the nearly 300,000 Tennesseans who are currently uninsured. This message falls directly in line with criticisms from healthcare providers right here in our own region who have publicly supported Medicaid expansion, including Ballad Health and Frontier Health.
In the same article, I was also extremely disappointed to read of Representative Matthew’s Hill’s response to the report where, despite the overwhelming evidence and support, he continues to deny our state’s need for Medicaid expansion. With respect to Representative Hill, I must disagree. Expanding Medicaid is the ethical, moral, and logical action to take and has tremendous benefits for the working people of our state and for our community, including nearly 14,000 people in Washington County alone who do not have traditional health insurance.