My name is Laura Gargiulo and I am a 45 year-old single mom to Jack, my energetic 11year-old son. I have a bachelor of science in English and a master of education in secondary education and teach part time as an English adjunct professor at Phoenix College. Oh, and one more thing, I don’t have health insurance. When facing tough household budget choices that came down to groceries or car payment, I found myself in crises.
After months of struggling with my impossible financial situation, I chose to keep my son’s health insurance in place while letting my own lapse. It was a tough choice, but the immediate needs of food and transportation seemed so much more important to me at the time.
And then on Oct. 15, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.
“Invasive ductal carcinoma” the doctors called it. It didn’t matter what they called it — I had cancer. Cancer. I have cancer? It was just a lump. Women always get lumps. They turn out to be nothing. They must be wrong. They must be. But they weren’t. But how? Why me? I don’t remember anything the doctor said afterward. He was talking, but the words weren’t processing. A cold fear seized me, and I didn’t know what was happening. It was as if I received a knock-out blow by Muhammad Ali and those little birds in cartoons were swirling around my head. Cancer. I have cancer.
I have cancer and now I have to deal with it. But I don’t have health insurance — that was my first thought. I don’t have health insurance.
My second thought was “What about Jack? What about my son? How am I going to get well for Jack if I can’t afford the treatments? What are we going to do? What happens to him if I don’t survive? What have I done? I was so healthy, I never imagined this. This is what happens to other people, right? I never realized that back when I was juggling my little household budget that the consequences would be so dire. Now what? Am I going to die?
The news was physically and mentally debilitating. I couldn’t function. The knock-out blow lasted for days. I didn’t know where to start, or what to do. My good friend, Dianne Sikel, who came with me to my appointment that day, had her wits about her. She called me later that day and told me to bring my birth certificate and driver’s license. She said she found some program that would insure me because I had breast cancer. She said we needed to drive down there and hand-deliver the application.
I drove to her house and signed the documents she had laid on the table. We drove downtown to the government building and found the office of HealthCheck. It took a while, but we finally found the office. Her name was Virginia Warren and she was the programs office chief. She explained that the Arizona state Legislature had just passed the Breast & Cervical Cancer Treatment Program (BCCTP) under the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.
We handed her the documents, and after making sure everything was in order, she looked at me and said, “You’re approved. You are now covered by AHCCCS for everything, from your diagnosis, treatment, reconstructive surgery, up to five years after your diagnosis. The state Legislature just passed this bill for breast and cervical cancer patients in August. You are the third person to receive services. If you came in my office three months ago, I would have told you there is nothing we can do for you.”
We all cried and hugged each other. It was the first time I smiled since hearing the news I had breast cancer. Within two days I had my health insurance card. Within a week I had appointments with a surgeon and an oncologist. Within two weeks I had surgery for a chemo port and started my chemo treatments.
It is now December and I am still undergoing my chemo treatments. I have four left. I’m not quite sure where I would be today if it weren’t for the BCCTP and AHCCCS. I realize how fortunate I am that AHCCCS began this new program. When I first found out that I had cancer, the worst part wasn’t that I had cancer, but that I wouldn’t be able to take care of my son. I don’t worry about that now. I have health insurance. I have coverage. I have hope.
— Laura Gargiulo, a single mother, part-time English adjunct professor at Phoenix College.