Tom. He has been a fixture in my brother and sister-in-law’s lives for over a decade. Tom stood up with my brother as a groomsman at his wedding. Tom flamed my brother’s growing love of golf. Tom always made us laugh with his good-natured ribbing  and practical jokes. But last night, Tom taught us how to die with dignity while fighting till the end.

Surrounded by his family, Tom succumbed to melanoma. Melanoma is an insidious form of cancer that capriciously selects who will survive a stage 4 diagnosis and who won’t. In Tom’s case, we will forever play “what if’s” because he could have been diagnosed earlier if he hadn’t feared going to the doctor because he didn’t have health insurance.What if he had never had to worry about how he would have to pay for an office visit? What if he wouldn’t have had to worry much less any care or medications he would have received on said visit cost? What if he would have not had to worry about bankruptcy to receive medical care? But he did have to worry about all those things. As did my mother. Tom’s circumstance strongly mirrored that of my late mother, whose COPD diagnosis came too late for the very same reason–no insurance.

I have always believed that America was the land of opportunity for all. Watching my mom and Tom succumb to diseases when they could’ve had many more years of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has shaken my long-held belief in opportunity “for all.” It has also bolstered my belief that access to quality healthcare is a human right, not a commodity. Access to quality healthcare shouldn’t just be for the wealthy. Access to quality healthcare is a key to the opportunity that the Founders spoke of over two centuries ago.

Tonight, Tom, I think of you



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