But Our Healthcare System Does

When my wife Margot passed away in the summer of 2011, after a nine-year battle with breast cancer, I was devastated. I didn’t know how to move on with my life, now that she was gone. But somewhere in the depths of grief, a friend gave me a piece of advice that helped me begin to see a future for myself.

“Mike, Margot came here and learned what she was supposed to learn and did what she was supposed to do, and left. You should celebrate that. You, on the other hand, are still here, so you either have something to do or something to learn. You should be excited about that.”

I certainly couldn’t relate to feeling excited, but he was right: there was something I was still here to learn and to do, as I would soon discover. A couple of weeks later, a friend asked me to refer his sister-in-law, Amanda, to one of Margot’s doctors, and after doing so, I offered to accompany her to the appointment. I wasn’t doing anything else that day, and I figured that my nine years of experience around breast cancer might be useful.

Meeting Amanda was a wake-up call for me. She was the same age as Margot had been, and had been struck down by the same disease, but little else in the circumstances of these two women was the same. An African-American single mother of three, Amanda had a very low income and only Medicare to pay her bills. The doctor gave her a grim prognosis: Stage 4 breast cancer. He explained that the best protocol to extend her life would be a combination of three types of chemotherapy. And then he said something I’ll never forget: “Your insurance will only pay for one, so that is all I can give you.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Margot had always had the very best treatment money could buy, from the top specialists in the country. To be honest, before this moment, I’d hardly considered how many people are fighting for their lives and fighting to make a living at the same time. Suddenly, I was confronted with the unfairness of a system that gives rich people access to the best treatment and denies those with less fortunate circumstances a chance at survival or at least a few more months of life.

I gave the doctor my credit card and told him to give Amanda whatever treatment she needed. In that moment, the Love From Margot Foundation was born—to support women who are unable to meet the financial burdens that come with a cancer diagnosis.

Too often, when these women are diagnosed, they face not just the specter of cancer but the potential loss of their jobs, their income, and therefore their ability to pay for things like medical insurance. Plus, they’re often supporting families who depend on them for basic living expenses. And on top of all these hardships, their chances of survival are dramatically reduced. For example, the American Cancer Society has found that uninsured patients are twice as likely to die as those with coverage, and this demographic tends to include more women and minorities.

Cancer doesn’t discriminate. But our healthcare system does. I’m glad that I figured out what I was still here to learn and to do, and have the opportunity to help ease the burden for some of those who need it the most. You can read more about some of the women who have benefited from the Love From Margot Foundation here.