We're tremendously lucky in how the timing of all this worked out, that my chemo is happening during the summer. It's been a few years since we've needed (budget-wise) to pick up extra teaching over the summer, so usually the summer is when Kevin works on math and I try to get some uninterrupted book-length writing done (which is so much harder to think through with the constant interruptions of the school year). This year, I cleared my schedule entirely for almost the whole stretch of chemo -- the semester starts a week and a half after my last chemo treatment, so I'm hopeful that I can start the fall normally.
But even if I can't, I am again, incredibly lucky in the fact that I am employed full-time, with good benefits. Not only does the insurance pay for the bulk of the treatment costs (I think co-pays for doctor visits, MRIs, parking fees, meds, etc. will end up costing around $2000-$4000 in the end), but much more importantly, my job isn't at risk, and I even get sixty days of what they call 'intermittent disability,' which means that if there are days (or a few weeks) when I can't make it in to teach, my salary won't be docked.
I say I'm lucky, and I am -- but everyone should have such luck. This is part of the human condition, that some of us, most of us, will have unexpected illnesses, and that there will be times when we won't be physically capable of financially supporting ourselves. I'm forty-three, and have been working and earning (and paying into social security) since I was sixteen. But the costs of this disease are extreme enough that if I hadn't happened to have a full-time job with benefits (or been married to someone with such benefits), I think we might have had to sell our house to pay for the treatment. The first three months of Herceptin alone would have been $94,000 without insurance.
I'm thinking about all my friends in more perilous academic conditions, adjuncting without insurance benefits, without even the guarantee of employment semester to semester. How would they economically survive this? I'm thinking about my writer friends, many of them working self-employed contract gigs as proofreaders or tech writers to pay the rent while they write books they hope will sell big enough to lend some financial stability. Writers' orgs do sometimes offer health insurance, or an emergency medical fund, but if you're knocked out of working by a health crisis for two weeks, or six weeks, or six months -- how long could you actually pay your rent?
And I know some people would say that it's on you to be financially prudent enough to save for those times, but really, how many of us are actually that prudent, especially when medical costs can be so astronomical?
Canada does better. Australia does better. So many countries do better by their people. America should do better too.