Ted Kennedy's Death from Cancer Inspires Survivors

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Sen. Ted Kennedy was buried today. 

    And we cancer survivors, those of us who daily battle the long-lasting effects of this vicious disease, have lost our champion.

    I use the word champion here as a verb, as in someone who champions a cause. Because if ever the issue of health care for all Americans had a champion, it was Ted Kennedy – the Lion of the Senate.

    His mantra, words Americans heard him repeat over and over again throughout his 47-year Senate career, was this:

    “Health care is a fundamental right for all, not just an expensive privilege for the few.”

    I think about those words today, as Ted is laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. And I consider what they mean to us, members of the breast cancer community.

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    Health care for all means not having to make a choice between eating, putting a roof over your head, and finding out why there’s a lump growing in your breast.

    Universal health care means you can lose your job, and still have the mastectomy that will save your life. 

    Health care for all means an end to “Is it OK to wait 3 more months to have a mammogram of this lump? I’m between jobs and I won’t have insurance till then.”

    Never again do I want to answer the following question on this site: “Can you tell me what this lump is? I don’t have insurance and can’t afford to go to the doctor.”

    Ted Kennedy died of brain cancer. His son, Ted Jr., had his leg amputated as a 12-year-old – bone cancer. His daughter, Kara, has fought lung cancer. The Kennedy family knows what we cancer survivors go through. Because they went through it, too. Like us, they’re survivors.

    Except for the Senator. Last Tuesday, cancer finally killed him. Along with about 1,500 other Americans, survivors who lost their lives to cancer that same day.

    How many died without proper treatment, because they couldn’t afford it? How many died needlessly, because they had no money? And because the richest nation on earth couldn’t “afford” to save them?

    Watching and listening to the outpouring of affection for this man, and grief at his loss, I’m struck by the parallel to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt, like Kennedy, was born of privilege. And like Kennedy, he made it his life work to help the poor.

    Roosevelt worked tirelessly to pull America out of the Depression. Kennedy put the same effort into pulling Americans out of poverty – ALL Americans. African-Americans. The disabled. Immigrants.

    The last half of Roosevelt’s presidency was spent leading the free world in its epic battle against Nazi Germany and its allies. Tragically, Roosevelt died just days before Germany’s surrender.

    Ted Kennedy has spent the final years of his career working for health care reform. And tragically, he died just as it seems we might – MIGHT – be on the brink of establishing a new level of justice for all Americans: the right to be cared for when you’re sick.


    Perhaps the loss of Sen. Kennedy will heal our wounded nation, so terribly split over health-care reform. Maybe Ted’s death will be the final impetus we need to make his long-time mantra come true:


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    Health care is a fundamental right for all. Not just an expensive privilege for the few.

Published On: August 29, 2009