(Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of Wednesday talks with Harriet Mayor Fulbright, President and Founder of the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center.)
Testimony - Hearing on Health Care and Public Option
2141 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington DC - 27 October 2009
I would like to thank you and your colleagues for providing leadership on this most important topic namely, a health care bill with a public option. It is in the tradition of the hearings of my late husband, Senator J. William Fulbright – public hearings on issues of supreme importance to the American people. I can think of no subject more important than health care for every citizen of this country.
And I talk about this from personal experience. A little over ten years ago a very rare blood cancer called Waldenstrom’s Macroglobulinemia slowly began to dominate the marrow of my bones. The progress of the doctors who were trying to figure out why this supposed simple case of anemia was not responding properly to tried-and-true methods of eliminating the condition was even slower because it took a more complicated blood test to arrive at the proper diagnosis of a cancer that is not simple nor is it anemia and is, indeed, incurable and deadly.
The ensuing year was a struggle. I felt as if I were living on transfusions, which were necessary every two to three weeks. The subsequent sessions with a chemotherapy agent slowly dripping into my arm were more uncomfortable because of the extreme fatigue that followed, but my concerns were not the immediate situation. It was the future that had me worried. I was used to traveling, sitting up late writing speeches such as this one, gardening and playing with my grandchildren. That was “living,” not this routine.
My doctor at Johns Hopkins, whom I liked from the start, finally told me that even though the chemo was indeed killing the cancer, it was also causing such damage to my immune system that he felt I needed a second opinion and suggested that I go to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. (See Mrs. Fulbright’s August 19 Peace Talk immediately following this post.) Dr. Stephen Treon agreed to see me, and a few months later my life began to improve. The complete transformation you now see before you came slowly but feels to me like a miracle. I am not and cannot be cured but I am in complete remission.
And it came about because of a medical team extending around the world – doctors who shared research findings and techniques freely, swapping patient stories in an effort to treat us all with greater efficiency and compassion, brainstorming ideas about how to spread the word about this disease so that future Waldenstrom’s patients will not go through a year or more of frustrating treatments for the wrong malady.
I also want to emphasize that I was able to take advantage of all this medical expertise because my health insurance, which came from my Senator husband, is the best this country has to offer and should be available to all US citizens. Without it I would now be deeply in debt or dead, unable to afford the extremely expensive and prolonged treatments.
And while I would never choose to experience this or any other life threatening disease, I am eternally grateful for what it has taught me. The disease has shown me who my friends are and introduced me to more wonderful people. It reintroduced me to my family and made me realize that our deep caring for each other was priceless and needed more nurturing. It has taught me what it takes to be a real companion. It has made me realize that fancy titles, prizes, medals and honors are no match for loving human relationships.
Over time it has also raised my sights to look at the wider world. You here at this hearing on health care are, or should be, an example for other groups. It is a collaborative effort, and therefore more powerful. Senator Fulbright understood the transforming power of collaborative efforts and established an international education exchange program founded on that principal. He would, I am sure, applaud you for your efforts and often spoke of what makes the United States of America such a magnet for so many:
“It is not our affluence or our plumbing or our clogged freeways that grip the imagination of others. Rather, it is the values upon which our system is built. These values imply our adherence not only to liberty and individual freedom but also to international peace, law and order, and constructive social purpose. When we depart from these values, we do so at our peril.” He went on to say that “our future is not in the stars but in our own minds and hearts” and that “creative leadership and liberal education, which in fact go together, are the first requirements for a hopeful future for humankind.” This group adds to that hope, and I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.
Harriet Mayor Fulbright is president and founder of the J. William and Harriet Fulbright Center, which works to create peace through education exchange programs around the world.