Choices and Chances


Every now and again my personal and professional lives intersect in ways that are unique. This year, still nascent, appears to bring about a fresh opportunity for me to think differently about both.

It is no secret that I have Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer that lives in my bone marrow and blood stream. I first underwent treatment when I was diagnosed at stage four in 2009, and I had a recurrence about two years ago. Today I am healthy, but there are still rogue cancer cells floating around in my blood, looking for a foothold.

When they eventually find one, I will need to re-enter treatment. There’s this thing about chemotherapy, though—once you finish using a certain kind of drug, you generally don’t use it again. Lymphoma cells are crafty. They adapt and morph and try to outsmart the pharmacological warfare you’re using, so it’s important to keep changing things up.

The good news is there are lots of new lymphoma drugs being developed all the time, and they are POWERFUL. Even better, many of them take pill form. Science has moved beyond meds that have to be administered in giant IV bags or huge needles so scary your doctor practically has to wear a hazmat suit to use them.

Personally, I prefer the pills—most people do—but many insurance companies don’t, and their refusal to pay can be a huge obstacle for patients like me. These treatments are new, so their development costs have been rolled into the prices of the pills and are very high. Killing cancer is neither easy nor cheap.

That’s where my professional life comes in. Resch Strategies has been working for some time to help folks that want to get those scientifically advanced chemo pills covered by all insurers. All across Michigan, thousands of cancer patients are cleaning out their retirements, selling their belongings, and even asking friends and family to help them pay for these treatments. That’s not right, but these are the choices many of us will one day face.

This is a coalition about which I am deeply passionate. In my work, I have had the opportunity to help develop and share materials and even meet personally with state legislative leaders on this issue. Unfortunately, no policy action is imminent—like most other issues related to health care and insurance, patient needs often are secondary to the dollars and cents associated with them.

So people like me continue to wait and hope for better. In the meantime, one in three working-age cancer survivors will go deep in debt. Some will declare bankruptcy. Others, concerned about their family’s financial future, will choose to keep fighting with the outdated drugs and technologies their insurance plans like. Perhaps they will hope to buy a little extra time before the inevitable happens.

I am a person of deep faith, and I truly believe all things happen for a reason. Even bad things, like cancer diagnoses and backward-thinking policy decisions. It is my job—indeed, all of our jobs—to move forward with available tools and information to help make sure the right thing happens in the end.

If telling my story and highlighting the need for sensible solutions to fight cancer will help make the difference, I’m going to do it. I don’t like having lymphoma, but if my situation can help someone less fortunate, I’m going to try and redeem it through activities that matter. Especially since I have put in the perfect place to help make that happen.

Cancer isn’t going to stop looking for a foothold. Neither can I.

--- Stephanie