Few people realize how financially devastating cancer is for many people. It drains one’s savings (even with good health insurance); it may disrupt one’s ability to earn a living in the short and long term; and incurs endless bills outside traditional “health care” that go on and on.
This is part of a series of personal stories about the financial (and very human) cost of cancer. You can find the earlier articles by searching #CancerCosts on the site.
This submission is written by Bobbi de Cordova-Hanks. You can learn more about Bobbi here.
How does a bass playing Brooklyn-born babe end up speaking before Congress? That’s easy. Just listen to your doctor say, “It doesn’t look good. It’s malignant! It’s very advanced breast cancer with a prognosis of about five years!” I remember looking over my shoulder to see the person the doctor was talking about. It couldn’t be me.
I had a wonderful job at the time of my diagnosis, one that combined my music background and my love of writing. I was managing editor of an international music magazine when I was diagnosed. Then one Monday I went to work and found the doors chained shut. Everyone was so sure I was going to die that they would rather close the business than deal with my impending death. I was left with no health insurance and no income while still in treatment for my breast cancer.
Not only was I battling cancer, I was also fighting financial devastation. I had chemo treatments weekly for a year with no insurance coverage. The worst thing about it was that I had recently married a man whose wife died of misdiagnosed ovarian cancer two years before leaving him with a mountain of unpaid cancer debt. It seems lightning struck twice.
That was the lowest point of my life. I could fight anything if I had a job, could pay my bills and knew I would have a life after cancer. I applied for every job in my field and was told I was the number one choice for the job, but the final call hiring me never came. That’s when the realization of discrimination against cancer survivors sunk in. This was back in 1986 and cancer was still in the closet. The big “C.” It took me 24 years to pay off my medical debt. I made the final payment in December of 2010.
Two years after my diagnosis I was hired by what was then Florida Community College at Jacksonville as its news bureau manager.
I read a story about two people bicycling around the perimeter of the United States to raise awareness and money for cancer survivorship. I immediately contacted them, joined the movement and became an advocate. I knew I had to change things for women who would follow in my footsteps. I remember going to the president of the college, and telling him there was an unmet need in the community and, as a community college, we needed to do something about it. I told him of my desire to start a program for women with breast cancer. He thought that was a great idea and Bosom Buddies was founded originally as a course in cancer survivorship.
I left the college at the end of 1999, having been diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer. I looked into various non-profit organizations in Jacksonville and decided that the Women’s Center of Jacksonville would be the perfect home for Bosom Buddies.. I wanted an organization that was dedicated to improving the lives of all women and would continue my work, if I couldn’t, and the Women’s Center fit that bill.
Thirty years and three different primary cancers later, I’m still here fighting the good fight on behalf of all cancer survivors. The Women’s Center of Jacksonville’s Bosom Buddies program is now 28 years old. We’ve served more than 7,000 women and we’re still going strong. What was my mantra during all the tough times? “I’m too busy to die, it’s not in my Daytimer and no other woman will wear my jewelry.” Somehow it’s worked.