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Hammer Down Cancer? Yeah, It’s Personal

We all know someone who has been impacted. Maybe it’s you.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Nikos Frazier / Journal & Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

This is a story about cancer. That means it’s also a story about insurance which, given the insurance at issue here, becomes inherently political. I’m not going to shy away from the facts in this story because I think they’re important. They matter, because my mom matters.

I’d spent all of my life living in Indiana, sparing a summer working for Special Olympics Minnesota with an ill-fated then girlfriend, until my wife and I moved to Virginia. It seemed like a world away. For the first time in my life I was moving away from my family. My brothers would all be a 10+ hour drive or a 1.5(ish) hour flight away. My parents wouldn’t be within driving distance. Hell, Purdue wasn’t just up the road anymore. My life had changed.

After 15 months in Virginia we settled in Maryland where we still are today. Those first few years I made a lot of phone calls to my mother. I love my mother. I’m not afraid or ashamed to say that. Maybe I’m a bit of a momma’s boy. I’m the youngest of four boys and was maybe a bit spoiled as that youngest child. I always say I’m their favorite child, but all four of us say that. It’s just a family joke. These calls were how I stayed connected to my mom and dad. I love my dad but he’s less of a talker on the phone. My mom could talk for hours. So I kept up to date with everything going on in the family by having long phone conversations with my mom when I walked my dog or as I made the long drive home from night classes. Then, one day in 2015 I got a phone call that no one ever wants to receive. My mom was on the other end and she was telling me she had cancer.

Let me back up for just a minute. Let me tell you about my mom. She’s a high school graduate who bounced around a number of jobs when I was growing up. My dad was a high school teacher and eventually assistant athletic director at my high school. If you know anything about teacher pay in Indiana and the cost of raising four boys (and putting all four boys through Purdue while taking on no student debt) you know that there was going to be a money issue eventually. So my mom worked various jobs. She was in real estate, she worked in retail, she worked for the Community Education Coalition as the art van lady, but the job that I will always associate her with is house cleaning. My mom built up a small business of cleaning people’s houses. Most days after kindergarten (half day mornings) my mom would pick me up and we would go to one of the houses she had to clean. She would clean and I would usually have a snack/lunch and watch The Price is Right. I still love Bob Barker to this day.

I tell you all this to tell you that for most of her adult life my mom didn’t have insurance. I’m not sure why my mom wasn’t on my dad’s insurance through the school but I assume it was just a matter of cost. These are things you don’t know or ask about when you’re 12, 13, or hell even 18 years old. She was more worried about caring for all of us than she was about caring for herself. There’s something noble, but also sad, about that. Here’s a woman who raised four boys, and did a good job I might add, but she wouldn’t take the time to care for herself.

Then the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare, passed in 2010 with most major provisions going into affect in 2014. While a couple of her jobs had offered insurance in the past she was now retired and really couldn’t afford to get health insurance on the private market. With Obamacare she took a chance on that awful website, with some of her sons trying to send resources and help, until finally getting finished with the process and signing up. She had insurance that was not tied to her employer for the first time in her life.

As one does when they get insurance for the first time in awhile they make up for lost time, they get screenings, they get check-ups, they get tests that they’ve put off due to the expense. Well, my mom was (blah blah) years old (she wouldn’t take kindly to me putting her age on the internet for all to see) and decided it was time to get a colonoscopy. To my knowledge it was her first one. Not long after that I got that call. My mom had colon cancer. Knowing my mom like I do it’s unlikely she would’ve paid for the screening without insurance. In a very real way, the Affordable Care Act saved my mom’s life.

Luckily, they had caught it and they thought they could treat it via surgical resection. So that’s what they did. They removed the cancer, along with some of her colon/intestines/insides in general. It was a difficult process for her to go through, scary no doubt, and included lifestyle changes that she still has to be wary of to this day. If you know someone who has had colon cancer you know what I mean. She’s had to change what she eats to a degree. She’s got to get colonoscopies on a much more frequent basis than the average Joe or Jane.

Another change is that my parents now give annually to the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research. It’s focused on curing cancer which as we know is a herculean task given the sheer number of cancers that are out there. My mom was also lucky enough to be one of the cancer survivors who stepped onto Mackey Arena to be recognized a few years back. It meant a lot to her not just as a cancer survivor, not just as a Purdue fan, but as someone who sacrificed so much of her time and her life to the care of others.

It must be a weird thing to stand in front of 14K plus people and be cheered for defeating a disease. Was it luck? Was it early detection? Was it the doctors? Was it something else? It’s impossible to say. What I do know for sure is that my mom is still here. She’s still here to see her five grandchildren, not as often as she’d like of course, and watch Purdue basketball. Her and my dad share season tickets with my brother and his wife. My mom and dad will be in attendance at the game against Maryland this Sunday to Hammer Down Cancer.

We all know the goal of eradicating cancer is a long way off but it’s thanks to years and years of research like what occurs at the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research that my mom is alive today. I can’t sit here and tell you exactly when or where treatments for colon cancer were discovered. All I know is that every dollar matters. Every bit of research is important. I’d love for my two year old son to grow up in a world where he didn’t have to worry about receiving a call from me in 21 years telling him I have cancer. I’d love to never have to make that call. If I do make that call I hope that I’m lucky like my mom. I hope that the research done by the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research, and countless other places like it, allows me to get treatment. If you can find it in your budget here’s a link to how to donate to the Purdue Institute for Cancer Research.

The Purdue Institute for Cancer Research has also created the Larry Clisby Research Endowment Fund. 100% of the donations to this fund go straight to the Cancer Institute’s scientists searching for a cure. That sure sounds like a Bullseye to me.

And don’t forget about the jersey auction as well.