30 Days of Gratitude: 2013 Edition (November 26, 2013)

Yes, I have seen this meme work its way across Facebook over the course of November. I thought about participating, but my brain is usually too stream-of-consciousness for that level of daily content commitment, and I refuse to violate my personal rule of one status update per day (any more than that and I run the risk of the dreaded newsfeed “block” by bored connections). So with that in mind, here’s a month’s worth of people, events and phenomena for which I am grateful over the course of 2013, all in one shot.

1.Occupying the top spot with good reason, I am grateful for April’s reconciliation with my sibling and her family. Life is a lot less funny and loving without my baby sis.

2.Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, recently described by funny man Stephen Colbert as a “possessed Cabbage Patch doll,” I thank you for two things: reminding North America that the USA does not have the monopoly on mentally challenged local politicians, and for instilling waves of nostalgia for the comedic stylings of Chris Farley.

3.Early summer period of unemployment: I salute you. Were it not for the unexpected job loss, I would not be happily ensconced as a Marketing Manager with a wonderful company in downtown Chicago.

4.I am grateful that pompholyx eczema, while challenging and painful, has thus far limited itself to my hands. In many cases, the feet are also affected, ushering in a whole new wave of debilitating restrictions.

5.Early Fall welcomed Act III with the love of my life. We’re making it work this time, applying the lessons of the past with strategic guidelines for a balanced future. That might sound more business jargon than romantic sweetness, but I’ve finally learned that hard work and commitment are every bit as important as passion. And we’re lucky enough to have that too.

6.I’m grateful that the Illinois Woman’s Press Association chose me as their 2013-2015 leader. Together we’ve grown membership by 20 percent in six months, introduced dynamic new programming and collaborations with other communications organizations. The era of siloing and membership bleed is over. This makes me proud.

7.Thank you to the rollerblading ukulele player and singer who often greets me as I alight from the Red Line stop near my apartment. The sight of you gliding in circles with perfect tune and pitch never fails to put a smile on my face.

8.I cannot stress enough how much I love my de facto stepdaughter Amber and four year-old grandbaby Chloe. I leapt right over motherhood into a full and diverse family life as unexpected as it is treasured. Our growing bond is a source of continual joy.

9.Dr. T: You with your string of pearls, pale blonde hair and Stepford Wife looks. You may not have been the ideal of how my perfect therapist should appear, but when you echo my angry “f” bombs, I never feel more understood.

10.Salt Lake City: As an atheist from an all-business metropolis, I never expected to find your exceedingly friendly locals, natural cultivation and Mormon-culture appealing, but your $4 beer and shot specials, clean streets and sincerely helpful citizens won me over.

11.Breaking Bad: Thank you for five seasons of jaw-dropping storytelling and acting. I held my breath, I cried and I was angry. You shall never be duplicated. Thank you as well for leaving the party long before you got stale.

12.Mr. Roger Ebert: Your April death provoked a sense of public loss I had not experienced since the 2008 premature passing of NBC’s Tim Russert. My sincere gratitude for your thoughtful, diverse body of work and the opportunities to bond with a father who was and remains, mostly incomprehensible.

13.Thank you soft, black doughnut cushion (February 2013 – August 2013) for making hours of sitting bearable as my poor, busted tailbone slowly healed. Thank you also for doubling as a comfy Metra train sleeping pillow. I apologize for carelessly leaving you behind in the Salt Lake City airport. I like to think you are enjoying a second life comforting the buns of another injured soul.

14.Epsom salts: I just wrote about you last week, but it bears repeating. For your affordable, diverse ability to treat and soothe so many conditions, this Bud’s for you.

15.My growing adoration for the NFL, despite its imperfections and the perennial so-so-ness of the Bears, is the reason I do not entirely succumb to Seasonal Affective Disorder each Fall.

16.The Republicans behind the late-Fall government shutdown: grazie for providing a much-needed, if temporary distraction from the abominable rollout of Obamacare.

17.President Obama: Thank you for breaking with eight years of W’s “Cowboy Diplomacy” to show the world that we are capable of talking and negotiating our way to a more peaceful world. Thank you also for being tough enough to stand up to warmongers who love to try to settle scores with bombs, yet failed to learn from the Iraq and Afghanistan examples that getting in is a lot easier than getting out.

18.I regret the coming conclusion to PBS’s Downton Abbey, but am grateful for the modern-day Austen void this society drama has filled.

19.Red wine: You’ll be on this list every year, you angel/devil, you.

20.The Boston Marathon bombing was tragic, frightening and a terrible blow to the assumed security of community events, but it taught the nation a couple of critical lessons: don’t assume Islamic terrorists are brown-skinned folks from distant lands and most of all, DON’T mess with the Boston PD.

21.Pope Francis: Like I said I am an atheist, but I am a huge fan of the compassion, good sense and humility you’ve unleashed on the Vatican thus far. There may be hope for a modern, relevant Catholic Church yet. I still can’t believe you made it through the Conclave given your radical ideas about poverty and tolerance, but I’m glad you did.

22.Not a fan of Edward Snowden, but I’m grateful for the public conversations about privacy and surveillance his shenanigans invited. It can easily be argued that we would not be having them otherwise.

23.Paul Krugman: For keeping Keynesian economics alive and mainstream and for standing up to destructive austerians and “deficit scolds” on the regular. Your brilliance, approachability and determination demonstrate why they don’t hand out Nobel Prizes to just anybody.

24.I thank the National Federation of Press Women for seeing fit to bestow my second first place national writing award in four years. The fact that my 2013 prize was for last year’s work on this very blog makes the victory that much sweeter. This page is me.

25.I am grateful for my diverse, eclectic neighborhood of Rogers Park, and the multi-faceted benefits of lakefront living.

26.Zipcar: Thanks to your affordable membership prices and pickup location plentifulness, I don’t miss vehicle ownership one whit and shall never purchase an automobile again.

27.I don’t know whose decision at CNN it was to allow Newt Gingrinch to assault the airwaves on a weekday basis, but thank you. I now have a place to channel my sweaty hate whilst running on the treadmill.

28.Much love to PK and his painful, awful craniofacial massage techniques that have helped the Great Migraine Crisis of 2012 seem like a distant memory.

29.Wendy Davis: Your June, 11-hour filibuster badassery in the Texas Senate may not have killed the State’s assault on abortion rights, but your honey badger determination announced a new leader for women’s issues – and spiked sales of pink sneakers.

30.Last but not least, I am grateful that I have been given another year on this planet upon which to reflect.

America’s Health Care System is Still Broken Part II (April 24, 2012)

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I will keep writing about this because I am one of the lucky ones. I will keep screaming about the system’s inherent abusiveness because I can and I must – for all those who are sicker, less financially solvent and don’t have a forum in which their voices may be heard.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this post, recounting the stress of divorce compounded by unexpected health news of the unfavorable kind. After being diagnosed with Stage 2A cervical cancer, I learned that I was considered persona non grata by prospective health insurance providers until I was in remission. At the time, I received the core-rattling news that none of my women’s health needs would be covered for 3-5 years, or until the part of Obamacare that forbids insurance companies from playing pre-existing condition roulette with people’s lives takes over in January 2013.

Since I wrote the first post in this series last year, a few important events have occurred:

  1. I underwent a successful procedure in June, 2011 that completely removed all cancerous cells from my body – no chemo or radiation required. A six-month checkup in December found no evidence of irregular growth.
  2. I have since gotten into the healthiest shape of my life. I was already no slouch in the exercise department, but have taken the upkeep of my temple in whole new directions. I have learned, through therapy and hard work, to better manage stress. I am invested in a romantic partnership that brings untold levels of peace and satisfaction. I am more careful about what I put into my body and my approach to preventive medicine has changed completely.
  3. I am officially divorced, no longer on my ex’s insurance plan and employed full-time at a housewares manufacturer with great benefits.

As I have already indicated, I was fully prepared for my women’s health coverage to be excluded for 2012. Whether I think the situation is fair or not (not) is irrelevant. You know the saying, “it is what it is.” I was planning to bide my time, and though I am not religious, ask Mother Earth to keep the cancer at bay. My single-adult premiums on the new policy amount to $6,000 annually and while I felt forced into a “cross your fingers” strategy as pertained to the cancer, at least I would be covered under all other circumstances right? Wrong.

The new Big Brother in my healthcare decision-making world, a company that will remain nameless but rhymes with Dew Toss, Dew Field of Iroquois, has declared a blanket “pre-existing condition clause” that covers EVERYTHING for which I have ever been treated. Surprise! This clause runs the full calendar year, so I have the honor of forking over $6,000 in the event I am shot or hit by a bus (neither of which has ever happened), but if I need therapy (you know because I was depressed about having cancer), antibiotics, birth control or my first annual cancer screening – all of that must come out of my pocket. My doctor and I jumped through numerous hoops and made many arguments, to no avail. A girl who rides her bike 68 miles to work and back, under the age 35 with the bad luck to get a little spot of cancer last year, is reduced to nothingness until 2013.

And as we all know today, the conclusion above represents the best-cased scenario. Subsequent to the decision by a bunch of corporate bureaucrats that I am too risky for any sort of benefits, though my money is still welcome, a bunch of mostly old ,white men on the Supreme Court will sit in judgment of my fate beyond this calendar year. By June we are told, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury will decide whether to throw the baby out with the bathwater on health care reform, because a few hundred lobbyists and Tea Party crackpots chafe against the individual mandate portion.

So we can make car insurance as a condition of vehicle ownership law, but this is somehow different? Can they really declare that no part of the reform benefits the American people? What about the part where, I don’t know, insurance companies can’t refuse you access to ALL TYPES OF HEALTHCARE because you had a treatable cancer that was cured in one shot?

If the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, I am out in the cold for 5 years, perhaps longer if an emboldened insurance syndicate decides so. I can’t believe this is America.

About the Supreme Court’s deliberations, the Daily Beast remarked in November of last year, “By agreeing to rule on the issue of national health care, the Supreme Court foolishly politicizes its deliberation process and needlessly damages its own reputation.”

But this is about more than a simple PR misstep, the negation of jurisprudence. This is about American rights and lives. I think I have a patriotic duty to protest my provider’s current right to kill or bankrupt me in the unfortunate event that my cancer recurs, or that I come down with the flu and need antibiotics and a short hospital stay. I want the Supreme Court to consider that with the same fervor with which they seem to regard a libertarian’s right to refuse health coverage when that refusal burdens everyone else.

America’s Health Care System is Still Broken (May 12, 2011)

Right about now, you may be saying to yourself, “Thanks, Captain Obvious! And this just in, water is wet!” But this week, the truth of my post title hit way too close to home.

As many of you know, I am going through a rather acrimonious split from my husband of three and a half years, Eddie. As part of the rules of separation, I will be losing my current health insurance, which I was able to take advantage of through my husband’s employer. Prior to moving into a studio apartment last month, I made the rounds: gynecologist, dentist, etc. Smoke ’em if you got ’em and all that. I had my IUD removed at the former appointment, not really the funnest 10 minutes I have ever spent, but I wasn’t expecting any other developments.

I am learning as I grow older that life has a funny way of really piling it on. Because anyone who has been through it knows that getting a divorce affects everything you say, think, do and feel – for a much longer period than you may wish. It permeates every nook and cranny of your selfhood, throwing the formerly stable and assured into tremendous upheaval, and rendering the impossible suddenly all too real. As you go about daily life, the experience is disorienting, the sensation that the world should stop for just a moment and acknowledge that it has run you over. But maddeningly, it doesn’t and you learn to cope with a new reality that you never imagined.

And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. Remember that visit to the gynecologist I mentioned? About a week after the “routine” pap smear that was part of the exam, I received the dreaded call: my doctor (not a nurse or a junior physician) explained to me in a very calm and soothing voice that I needed to have a biopsy (also known as a colposcopy when we’re talking about the cervix) as soon as possible.

This I did on Tuesday morning, and for other women out there who have endured a colpo, you will join me in declaring it a humiliating and uncomfortable procedure in every sense. I went in hoping for the best but fearing the worst and it seems that in this case, my fatalistic outlook served me well. Because when the doctor informed me that I appeared to have Stage 2 cervical cancer (final results will be in next week, but she felt confident enough to put a surgery on the books immediately), I took it fairly well.

The prognosis is very good. I learned this week that the traditional five stages of cancer (0-4) have a number of subclassifications. I am “lucky” enough to be classified under Stage 2A, which means that the surgery, scheduled for Tuesday, June 7, ought to be enough to eliminate the disease in my body once and for all.

While I am experiencing an epic case of conflicting emotions over the tumult of 2011 thus far: alternating between the joy of finally securing gainful employment as a professional writer, only to find myself suddenly alone, and now, ill, – that is not the drive behind writing this post. In fact my intent was never to address my battle with cancer publicly at all. In the first place, I have only begun to process my feelings, and in the second, it just seemed way too personal for now (yes, even I have my limits). However yesterday I realized that there is a cause to champion through my experience that is much bigger than a little laser surgery.

My employer is set to offer health insurance for the first time. When I learned this, I was overjoyed. How fortunate was I, just as I was about to lose coverage through my spouse? However, as I entered the small office where my boss had setup the insurance rep for the day, it dawned on me that telling the man I was in active treatment for the “Big C” could create some complications.

As soon as I informed the nice gentleman about my June 7 procedure, he pleasantly pulled a business card from his wallet, wished me well and told me to call him in 2014. That is the year when the part of Obamacare that forbids insurance carriers from rejecting “clients” (because we’re certainly not fucking patients anymore), on the basis of pre-existing conditions takes effect. Until that time, I was politely told there was nothing that could be done for me, and it was further suggested that I ask my spouse very sweetly to stay legally married for as long as possible.

The agent shared with me that the only health insurance provider that will even take a look at cancer “victims” (his word, not mine) is Aetna, and then only if you’ve been in remission for five years. Well I haven’t been in remission for five minutes.

I am 32 years old, and except for a spot of cancer, am in otherwise excellent health. I am afflicted with a temporary condition which, with a little luck and medical expertise, I will be free from after June 7. But for the next 3-5 years, I have the choice of no health coverage at all, or depending on the humanity and kindness of someone who no longer wants to be part of my life. It is a lot to ask of Eddie. It is a lot to ask of my personal pride. And it is way too much to ask of human decency. I feel like I am being punished – for what exactly, I don’t know, but the sense of shame remains.

The ironic part is that I feel physically fine. I can work, write, exercise and take full advantage of what the world has to offer. Yet I am shut out from the ability to inoculate myself against the expense of unplanned accident or illness for half a decade. I can speak out about this travesty, and more than that, I must. Because what about those far sicker than me, with far less support, who suffer in unnamed silence?

I appreciate what President Obama has done to begin to correct our backward, inefficient and illogical health care delivery system, but it’s still not enough. Not by a long shot.