By Karuna Jaggar, Executive Director
It’s been just over a year since I was diagnosed with cancer. And to mark that unfortunate anniversary, I’ve been doing whatever I can to ensure that my friends, family, and community vote tomorrow to protect and expand healthcare coverage.
Because I know that I’m the one in four (or over 50 million) people in the U.S. who have a pre-existing health condition and need access to the healthcare guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
It’s absolutely devastating that in the richest country in the world, 54 percent of advanced cancer patients in a recent study, refused or stopped treatment because of the cost. Just under half of all newly diagnosed cancer patients exhaust their retirement savings within a couple of years of a diagnosis. And I know that without health insurance, I would be just one unlucky recurrence away from having to make the gut wrenching choice between whether I leave my children with only one parent or without savings for college or their future.
That’s why yesterday, my family and I spent the day knocking on over 100 doors to get out the vote in a swing district in the Central Valley in California. In recent weeks, my children have sent dozens of handwritten—and beautifully decorated—postcards encouraging folks to vote. And I’ve spent time phone banking with friends after work—talking with California residents about why we need to vote for candidates who haven’t joined the GOP to try and dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
As a parent and the executive director of a national nonprofit, volunteering for other issues isn’t part of my usual life. But as a recent cancer patient, I know that tomorrow’s midterms will be a make or break moment for millions of people with preexisting conditions, so I’ve been giving as much time as possible to making sure people vote in what is one of the most important mid-term elections in recent history.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the GOP would try again at repealing the ACA if they win the midterm elections. And we know the Republican Party is committed to making good on their promise when it comes to gutting healthcare and abolishing protections for anyone with a pre-existing condition in this country.
Of course, healthcare coverage is just one of the issues at stake in this election. Climate change is an urgent issue for many younger voters. Immigrants and transgender people are under attack. Women’s reproductive rights are being rolled back. And essential agencies that are tasked with protecting public health are being gutted by appointees with deep corporate ties.
But I didn’t feel hopeless standing on porches and in driveways, trading stories with the people about what matters to them. Instead I felt a lasting personal connection. I told them my cancer story and why my family and I are working to #FlipTheHouse to #SaveTheACA. And they shared why healthcare matters to them. As we shared our experiences with the double punch to the gut of the financial costs of treatment that follows the initial stomach-churning fear from a devastating diagnosis, we also shared a commitment to our collective wellbeing.
I am lucky enough as a first-generation American to be able to vote. I talked with non-citizens and youth who can’t vote. And I was able to inform folks concerned about a felony conviction about their voting rights in California. (If you have questions, check out this resource with information about all states.)
Here are a couple of the main things I learned from talking with folks who weren’t sure they would or could vote:
Breast cancer has always been political. Your vote tomorrow is important in protecting life-saving health coverage for millions.
And after tomorrow’s vote, whatever comes, Breast Cancer Action will work tirelessly to protect access to affordable, quality healthcare and to work toward universal access.
Together let’s make sure everyone gets out to vote tomorrow!