Several years ago, I was in a fight with my mama. Years of accumulated conflict over money, relationships, queerness, and more led to a huge wall of silence between us. I got my stubbornness from her. Neither of us would pick up the phone and end the standoff.
I woke up one morning thinking of her and cried. I knew something was wrong. Still too stubborn to call her, I called my auntie and learned that my mother was scheduled for a biopsy because of a sizable lump in her breast. Soul connected.
I ran home to my mama. I booked a one-way flight to New Orleans, told my job that I wouldn’t be back until I knew she was ok and that they could do whatever they needed to in response. Thankfully, my board picked up the slack until I could return.
By the time my mama was diagnosed with breast cancer, I could see the lump in her breast without touching it. Like a lot of poor people, she waited until she was in significant pain before seeing a doctor. She'd never had stable health insurance before Obamacare so she always worried too much about cost.
Thanks to Obamacare she was able to stop worrying about the cost of her healthcare and focus on healing her body.
And she and I connected like never before. I stood by her side through numerous appointments. I used all the middle class lessons I’d learned since leaving home and advocated on her behalf for better care, shorter waits, more detailed information. I stood next to her every moment I could, and when doctors insisted that I needed to leave the room, I stood just outside the door and listened, shedding silent tears because I could hear my mama in pain and not be inside holding her hand.
I quietly worried about money, too. I started thinking about how I would have to help hold her household together. I wasn’t scared.
My father fell terminally ill when I was 13, so I already knew what it meant for every family member to chip in where they could to make ends meet. My summer job, my older brother’s fast food job, my younger brother skipping activities to stay home and help with Daddy’s care since he was Daddy’s favorite. We pinched and borrowed and moved money around and worked odd jobs, and still the financial stress from my father’s illness reverberated for years after he died. It took our family years to climb out of debt and we still eventually lost the home I grew up in.
But I wasn’t afraid when I started thinking about some of the dramatic life changes we would all have to go through to make sure my mama was taken care of. Only my brothers were both married with their own families now, and Mama was unable to work anymore. It would fall on me and my meager nonprofit salary which I’d probably need to give up. Ok, yeah I started to get a little scared.
Even though my mama still carried the habits of poverty and hadn’t sought medical attention until her cancer was already fairly advanced, when she was finally ready to fight for her life, she could afford to do so without financial ruin for her or for me. She could concentrate on her health and getting better. She could concentrate on being a grandmother to her first grandbaby, my precious niece Deanna. She could concentrate on calling me often with the updates I demanded once I returned home.
My mama has had a long and difficult road to recovery, but she is now cancer-free.
Now if I don’t hear from my mama for three days I check in to make sure nothing’s wrong. In the middle of all her healthcare drama, and it was dramatic, we found a way to be easy around each other again. We found a way to be closer than we’d ever been because she was going to live, and not because I was preparing to say goodbye.
I know that without Obamacare, I could easily have been saying goodbye to my mama. But with it and the essential care it provided for her, we got many, many more hellos instead.
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