Guest Columnist

Jill Biden: Cancer steals our joy, but we must never give up hope

Vice president Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, help hand out ice cream at the annual Labor Day picnic hosted by the Area Labor Council at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Union members, their family members and supporters gathered for grilled brats, hot dogs, coleslaw, and ice cream served by local government officials. Several presidential candidates stopped in to greet constituents as well. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Vice president Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, help hand out ice cream at the annual Labor Day picnic hosted by the Area Labor Council at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. Union members, their family members and supporters gathered for grilled brats, hot dogs, coleslaw, and ice cream served by local government officials. Several presidential candidates stopped in to greet constituents as well. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Cancer has been a dark thread throughout my life. Both my parents died of it, and in 2015, Joe and I lost son, Beau, to glioblastoma. Cancer is a brutal disease; it shatters our hearts and steals our joy.

But what Joe and I have learned is that even if we don’t have medical degrees or science backgrounds, we aren’t helpless in the face of cancer.

After Beau died, when we could breathe again, we were so proud when President Barack Obama put Joe at mission control of the “Cancer Moonshot” to end cancer as we know it. After we left office, we didn’t think we would continue that work, but advocates and organizations told us that our experience bringing people together and breaking down barriers was dearly needed. So, we continued our efforts through the Biden Cancer Initiative.

In January, I traveled to Oakland and met a woman who told me it wasn’t the chemo or the treatments that were the hardest part of having breast cancer — it was the financial toxicity and all the complications of managing her care while her life was on the line.

This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m thinking about all women — and men — who have stared down this disease. Every two minutes, a woman in our nation is diagnosed with breast cancer, and it’s the most common cancer for Iowa women. I’ve seen its destruction up close: In one year, four of my friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, and one of those friends didn’t survive. Despite the progress we’ve made on breast and other cancers, “malignant” remains one of the most frightening words in the English language.

Over the years, Joe and I saw how lifesaving mammograms were out of financial reach for too many. We also saw how breast cancer survivors were denied insurance coverage because of preexisting conditions. That’s why Joe and President Barack Obama worked so hard to pass the Affordable Care Act — making routine, recommended preventive care free of charge and banning discrimination based on preexisting conditions. This law has been life-changing for women across Iowa and the nation.

And in this campaign, Joe is continuing our mission with an ambitious health care plan that would build on the Affordable Care Act, provide a public option, and lower prescription drug costs, so all women have access to the quality care they need.

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We’ve been honored to use our platform in this cause, but we also believe that one of the most powerful things any of us can do is advocate for our own health and that of our families. That means talking to your doctors about what screenings are right for you and making sure loved ones do the same. In October and November, MercyOne Medical Center is offering free mammograms in Waterloo and Cedar Falls for women who face financial challenges. They deserve a tremendous amount of credit for this program, but their work also reminds us that we must ensure all women, regardless of income, race, or where you live, have access to these lifesaving screenings. That’s why Joe is determined to make sure every American has an affordable, quality health insurance option that covers free, recommended preventive services.

During my cancer conversations last year, I was reminded how far we have to go — but I also saw incredible strength and resilience in this community. Medical breakthroughs are providing enormous hope. Patients are coming together to create new support systems. And all of us have more resources than ever to stop this disease before it takes lives.

Most of us will never work on the research to be a part of the effort to cure cancer, but all of us can do something this Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We can be diligent about our own health. We can advocate for better health care policies, like the plan my husband has put forth. And we can use our voices to educate others.

Dr. Jill Biden is an educator at a community college and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic candidate for president.

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