In 1992, there was no world wide web, no pictures, only words. And I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a group filled with witty, challenging, loving words created by a group of witty, challenging, loving people from around the world, mostly, of course, in the United States. Over time, I got to meet many of them. We went whitewater rafting, held quilting bees, attended chocolate fairs, and weddings, and consumed copious quantities of amazing food and drink.
I think it's fair to say that Nancy was the most beloved member of our group. She was a funny, kind, deeply loving woman with a great love of animals - no more so than her pet lizard, Herman. Nancy was a docent at the Memphis Zoo, the doting mother of Jenna and Derek, and an employee of the University of Memphis, where she covered the door to her office with Dilbert cartoons.
In May 1998, Nancy was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the bile ducts. The tumor was large and would have been difficult to remove surgically, but, by some miracle, Nancy's HMO agreed to let her have treatment at the Vanderbilt University Hospital cancer centre. The doctors were going to perform a chemoembolization - where the artery feeding the tumor would be blocked with a plug containing chemotherapy drugs to cut off its blood supply and shrink it to a point where it could be removed.
This is a fairly routine procedure today, but almost 20 years ago it was considered experimental, and Vanderbilt decided to fight with Nancy's HMO for her to have the treatment. They had it all arranged and approved, and she checked into the hospital in Nashville for the procedure.
Only to have someone at the HMO change their minds and pull the plug on the treatment while she was being prepped for surgery.
In the 1990s, universities in the US were one of those employers with "great" health plans for their employees. But, as remains the case today, insurers decide what treatment you get, NOT the medical professionals treating you.
Nancy died on August 12, 1999, she was 56, the same age I am now. Her loss was keenly felt by our group as a whole, and I think it's fair to say that we miss her still.
Despite having good coverage under her work health plan, Nancy's chemotherapy still cost thousands of dollars, and after she died, Jenna and Derek were forced to sell the family home to settle the debts that remained.
Fast-forward a year to Papa's diagnosis with throat cancer.
My father lived in Ste-Thérèse, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence across from Laval and Montréal. His cancer was discovered when he had a stroke caused by a tumor pressing on an artery in his neck. At his choice, he delayed chemotherapy to undergo physio to treat the side effects of the stroke.
Then he had another, more serious, stroke, paralyzing him on one side of his body. And started aggressive treatment for the cancer.
Here's the big difference in how treatment progressed for my Papa and Nancy: Papa had the same oncologist as one of his hockey heroes - Jean Beliveau. Somehow, I can't see Michael Jordan would have been denied treatment as Nancy was - simply because he could pay for it without worrying about those pesky insurance company flunkies.
When my father died, my online family asked if my sister and I required any financial assistance to meet his expenses. Papa had prepaid his funeral and all his treatment was covered by the Ministère de la Santé and the Régie des Rentes, as he was placed on partial pension due to his illness. We got money back from the hospice because the Régie paid a month in advance for his stay.
No assistance needed.
Nearly 20 years after these events, my friends and family in the United States continue to find their health care choices left to the mercy of insurance companies and conservative politicians who are little better than faith healers and snake oil salesmen.
After the vote in the US Congress last week, I publicly expressed my wish that I could adopt my American friends, and thanked my grandparents for emigrating to Canada.
Our health care system is far from perfect, and still underfunded, but I am grateful that I can walk into a hospital and walk out without handing over a credit card or worrying about pre-existing conditions negating the insurance I do have. Yes, my tax rate is higher, but it's a small price to pay for peace of mind.
And that's what makes The True North genuinely strong!
My previous post about my Papa: http://labellatestarossa.blogspot.ca/2013/08/it-must-have-been.html