4/2/10

Almighty Cancer Patient Just Keeps Swimming Without Healthcare

There hasn’t been a time in my gay life that I haven’t known Courtney Talbot. I couldn’t tell you where or when we were introduced, but I can vividly picture the night I met her fish.  Much like Courtney, her new fish tattoo was bold, unique and filled with vivacious color.  Courtney was just an acquaintance so I didn’t tell her that the new ink conjured images from Finding Nemo.  Captivated by it’s piercing green eyes and slightly parted, delicate fish lips, I could almost hear it whisper just keep swimming (in Ellen DeGeneres’ voice.) Since that day the just keep swimming mantra has been synonymous with Courtney.  Her love of life embodies this expression and now, more than ever, she needs to remember to swim.   My old pal has been diagnosed with leukemia and to make matters worse, she has no health insurance.

Throughout February, Courtney pushed through sickness and continued to workout and job search.  Like many recent college graduates, she found herself with part-time work and absolutely no healthcare.   Despite aching bones and swollen lymph nodes, she avoided extensive medical testing due to cost.  After a Z-pack proved unsuccessful, the clinic sent her to the ER for follow-up.  With her white blood cell count through the roof, she was quickly admitted and then transferred to Robert Wood Johnson, ranked among the top hospitals in cancer care according to U.S. News & World Report.

On March 10, 2010, Courtney was diagnosed with Pre B cell acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia with Philadelphia chromosome. There are only five years of research on this particular strand of leukemia and much of the treatment is still in clinical trials. Courtney simply describes this as a “fork in the garbage disposal.”

She started chemotherapy and will need a bone marrow transplant; yet, shockingly, she isn’t scared. The power of love has something to do with that.  Her girlfriend of four years just began a new job to be closer.  While they want to take it one day at a time, domestic partner medical benefits may be available for Courtney if they decide to make it official with a civil union.

And now, with last week’s historic health reform, she may have other options. Political opinions aside, Congress is undeniably providing Americans something that is greatly needed. Courtney, with no heath insurance and extremely high medical costs ahead of her, has a lot to say.  “The expenses are killer but I have great friends and family that are fighting very hard to make sure I get the best. I cried because of the stress of how this is going to get paid, not because of the leukemia.”

This young woman put herself through college and comes from a hard-working middle class family.  One of her biggest pet peeves is Republicans who say Obama is a socialist for trying to pass healthcare reform. Simply put, Courtney says, “ I just want to know I’ll be taken care of.”  She adds, "I want to deal with my cancer. Heath insurance adds drama but I am fortunate enough to have family taking care of the rest.”

Courtney attributes much of her stamina to watching her sister’s fiancĂ©, Andrew, fight Stage IV stomach cancer.  Doctors gave him two weeks to live and he beat the odds for many years.  Andrew’s battle ended in November 2009.  In his blog, lifedeathandcancer, Andrew said, “You can't choose the way you leave this life, but you can choose the way you live this life.”

And live Courtney Talbot will.  She has started a website to help with her medical expenses and raise awareness about all things cancer related.  The Almighty Talbot is a window into the world of cancer. Courtney compares her cancer with going to war, “I have a long battle ahead of me, but I can laugh again.”

Through The Almighty Talbot, Courtney hopes individuals will follow her experience, share their own, and ask questions.  This is not only her outlet, it is yours. And your mother’s, your brother’s, and anyone else who has been touched by this horrible disease. This line of open communication gives Courtney a new lease on life. She says it is us, and her commitment to shedding light on cancer for all, that is giving her the energy to get out of bed each day.

Turns out, my initial thoughts of Courtney’s leukemia were all wrong.  She doesn’t need to be reminded to Just Keep Swimming. She’ll be the one reminding us.

Share your story. Share a dollar.  Visit The Almighty Talbot.

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