You never get a say in the challenges life throws at you when you least expect it. That’s certainly a lesson I learned in 2009 when my mom passed away, leaving me a single caregiver to my 12-year-old sister. I was 23. When my daughter was born the next year, I had two children who relied on me.
Over the years that followed, I did everything I could to provide for my family, until I was thrown another curve ball. On May 14, 2013, I found a lump in my breast. At that moment, everything was thrown into the unknown. Financially, I couldn’t afford cancer. The very thought paralyzed me with fear — not only for my own health, but also for the well-being of my girls. I called my OB-GYN, but he couldn’t see me for four weeks.
When you’re wondering about a lump in your breast, four weeks is an eternity.
For many women like me, there is only one option.
With so much uncertainty, I was fortunate to know about Planned Parenthood. I called to set up an appointment and was able to receive a breast exam that same day. They also scheduled me for a mammogram with a local radiologist. When my test results came back inconclusive, the staff at Planned Parenthood ensured that I saw a specialist in a renowned breast cancer center the next day.
That visit confirmed the worst: I had cancer. Just two and a half weeks later, I had a complete radical mastectomy. Results would later reveal that my cancer was aggressive. Had I waited before seeking treatment, I would have had Stage-4 cancer.
I was living my worst nightmare, but I did not have to do it alone. Planned Parenthood guided me through the confusing and frightening world of appointments, clinics and chemo. The providers there ensured I received Medicaid so I could afford to continue raising my girls. They assured me that my only concern should be my health. Without their care, I wouldn’t be here to help my sister through college or watch my daughter play hockey.
Cancer can happen to anyone, from single mothers in small towns to the politicians who walk the storied halls of Congress. Today, lawmakers continue to push a bill that would deny countless women access to the care we need. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and others in our government who wish to defund Planned Parenthood — a reality for at least a year if the Republican’s American Health Care Act is passed — are threatening to take away the 360,000 breast exams, 270,000 Pap smear tests and 24,000 HPV vaccinations that Planned Parenthood health centers provide each year.
If this becomes a reality, the cancer screening I received would no longer be available.
Jaime Benner is a founding member of the Cancer Survivors Network for Planned Parenthood. She lives in the North Country of New York, and has gone three and a half years with no evidence of cancer.
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