Woman writes of struggle to keep the doctors who keep her alive

Edith Sundby (photo: Facebook)

The rollout of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has been full of snafus and politics. Less discussed are the individual people whose coverage is changing, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

Edith Littlefield Sundby counts herself among those whose coverage is taking a hit. She wrote about her case in a powerful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday.

In her early 60s, Sundby suffers from stage 4 gallbladder cancer. According to her op-ed, less than 2 percent of people with stage 4 gallbladder cancer survive five years after diagnosis. She's had it for seven years.

Though it has become close to impossible to speak about the Affordable Care Act in a nonpolitical way, Sundby does so in her op-ed's second sentence:

Via the Wall Street Journal:

"My grievance is not political; all my energies are directed to enjoying life and staying alive, and I have no time for politics."

Sundby describes herself as "a determined fighter" and "extremely lucky. "But," she writes, "this luck may have just run out: My affordable, lifesaving medical insurance policy has been canceled effective Dec. 31."

Sundby credits two things for her survival beyond expectations: her doctors (at the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California San Diego, at Stanford University's Cancer Institute and at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston) and her health care policy. She writes that since 2007, United Healthcare has spent $1.2 million "to help keep me alive."

Since receiving notice that her health care plan will end on Dec. 31, Sundby and her health care broker have searched for a comparable replacement. They haven't found one. Sundby writes that if she goes through the California health exchange, she will have to choose between UC San Diego and Stanford — no single plan is accepted by both — and that the UCSD plan does not allow for out-of-state care except for emergencies, meaning M.D. Anderson would not longer be an option.

What happened to the president's promise, "You can keep your health plan"? Or to the promise that "You can keep your doctor"? Thanks to the law, I have been forced to give up a world-class health plan. The exchange would force me to give up a world-class physician.

Sundby's story of survival has been profiled before. In a 2012 interview with AARP, Sundby spoke about her philosophy when fighting cancer. After her doctor told her that she had a 5 percent chance of not surviving an operation to have her lung removed, Sundby said to go for it.


"The risk for me is not going for it," she says. "And who knows? Maybe with the right music or with a different attitude or by just sauntering instead of bounding up the canyon, I'll still be able to do this afterward."

Sundby's positive outlook was also profiled in a wellness blog from The New York Times in July. In the piece, Sundby, an avid walker and hiker (check out her "Mission Walk" Facebook page here), wrote about why she recently walked 800 miles.

Via The New York Times:

With cancer we lose control almost immediately. We become hostage to disease. It quickly takes over our life, overwhelming not only our bodies but also our emotions and eventually our spirit. For almost six years I have tippy-toed around cancer, fearful of arousing it, fearful of its rage. Each time cancer lashes out it not only wrecks havoc with my body, it terrifies my soul.

I walked to rid myself of the terror of cancer, and to overcome the fear of it coming back. It took hundreds of miles walking to just begin to rid my heart of six years of fear. That fear may never completely fade, but actively engaging life — whatever that may involve — reminds me of the joy each day can bring.

In the Wall Street Journal op-ed, Sundby writes that for cancer patients, "medical coverage is a matter of life and death. Take away people's ability to control their medical-coverage choices and they may die. I guess that's a highly effective way to control medical costs. Perhaps that's the point."

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