What’s it like to be gravely ill in America without health insurance?
Katie Meier knows, and she hopes you never find out.
Meier, 31, decided to leave her childhood home and her family in Sycamore for Colorado two years ago, looking for a fresh start.
One day a few months later, she woke up and it hurt to breathe. A few trips to the doctor eventually led to a chest X-ray in spring 2011 that showed a tumor the size of a cantaloupe between a lung and her heart.
She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Her job doing data entry and inventory control at a greenhouse didn’t offer health insurance.
What followed were 12 rounds of chemotherapy and about $150,000 in medical bills. For Meier, the constant reminders about the financial peril she was in were almost worse than the disease itself.
The therapy worked, and the mass went away. But when she went to visit her oncologist in January 2012, she said he wasn’t interested in seeing her. Instead he pointed out that she was one of his office’s largest debtors, and questioned how she would ever pay him if she wasn’t working, she said.
Then in April, she knew the cancer had returned when she felt a lump in her neck, and she went to the emergency room. This time, the chemotherapy treatments required her to be hospitalized for three days every three weeks.
Then there was the night she came home from the hospital after 9 p.m. following an intensive round of chemo at the hospital, a woman in her 30s feeling as though she was in her 80s, to find someone waiting there to serve her with court papers for a couple of outstanding bills.
“Nobody should ever have to go through that, especially fighting a disease,” Meier said. “This is something I never understood before. Then I was sick and I have completely different outlook on everything, including the health care system.”
Despite all she’s been through, Meier, a 1999 Sycamore High School graduate, feels optimistic. She was finally awarded Medicare coverage in July after repeated denials. She expects to have a bone marrow transplant within a few weeks.
I called Meier on Friday afternoon. She was visiting her parents in Sycamore. She was understandably emotional in telling her story after a sleepless night.
Although she’s already raised more than $10,000 with the help of her church, St. John’s Lutheran in Sycamore and an online fundraising drive, she owes tens of thousands more, and her Social Security Disability Insurance payments are just enough to cover rent on her apartment.
Her mother and some of her mother’s friends have organized a pig roast benefit for her Oct. 6 at Lions Park in Elburn. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $8 for children younger than 10. Starting Wednesday, they will be available at Resource Bank branches at 555 Bethany Road in DeKalb, and at 310 Route 23 in Genoa.
Meier said repeatedly that she had changed greatly through her ordeal, and although it’s been a positive change, she wishes it hadn’t taken cancer to bring it about.
“You never know what tomorrow’s going to bring, especially when it comes to your health,” Meier said. “There’s so much stuff out there in the world to get upset about, and it’s petty. It’s not worth your time.
“There’s so much more in life, and it’s really hard to appreciate it when you’re not faced with something like this.”
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On the money?: Ernie Esposito called me Thursday morning with a gripe about our editorial page.
Ernie lives in DeKalb, although he told me he’s originally from Chicago, and I believed him. Guys from Carbondale don’t talk about “Sox Park.”
Ernie disagreed with our editorial Thursday that said Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of the proposed gambling expansion was “on the money.” The state needs more revenue, gambling is just another form of entertainment, and there’s no point in keeping a casino out of the state’s most populous city, he said. People are just going to go elsewhere to try their luck.
Now, my ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower and I’m no Puritan. I’ve gambled infrequently (and generally lost) in most ways available, in casinos in Las Vegas, Indian reservations and at Arlington Park and on riverboats right here in the Land of Lincoln.
Not to mention in NCAA Tournament pools, instant lottery tickets, the PowerBall, and so on.
Ernie and I agreed that as long as you view gambling as entertainment that you’re willing to spend a certain amount of time and money on, and then you leave, well, then roll the dice and take your chances.
But I say making games of chance available in every corner bar, opening casinos within every 50 miles, and adding slot machines at horse tracks isn’t going to save our state from its ever-deepening financial woes. Much like the 67 percent income-tax increase of 2011, gambling is simply a means to taking money out of residents’ pockets and redistributing it.
People get caught up in gambling. They chase losses, bet more than they can afford to lose, and can end up way in the hole. That can effect not only them, but those who depend on them.
Besides, when you get down to it, we don’t have a revenue problem in Illinois. This year’s general fund budget is $24.3 billion, including $15.3 billion in income tax revenue alone.
What we have had for years is a spending problem. Our state’s legislators have underfunded pensions – we’re now at $85 billion in unfunded pension liability – and put off paying bills rather than make tough choices about spending.
Until they come up with real solutions to those problems, Illinois will be holding a losing hand.
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Where’s the fire?: I showed up for my first Corn Fest on Saturday ready to man the Daily Chronicle booth for a couple of hours and see what was going on. (Thanks, by the way, to the volunteers who helped make the event a success for the 35th year, despite the rain we had Sunday.)
When I showed up there were billowing clouds of black smoke out on the horizon. Like a lot of the people staring into the distance, I feared a plane had crashed.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to find a police officer or firefighter at Corn Fest, and they told me it was a barn on fire at Route 38 and Weber Road, information we were able to send out in a text alert and post to Daily-Chronicle.com quickly.
It could have been a lot worse. As it was, it seemed like it was something the barn’s owner, 88-year-old Lloyd Collier, seemed to take in stride.
“I don’t accept losing physical things as a catastrophe,” Collier said as his barn burned to the ground.
Sounds like a man who’s learned a thing or two in his time.
• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 257, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @DDC_Editor.