Sunday, April 22, 2012

Relay for Life 2012

After speaking here at Relay for the last few years, I always get people who ask me why I do it. They say, “Ashwani, aren’t you tired of hearing your own voice?” And I always give them the same response: “Of course, I am, but with a voice like an angle people just want to hear me speak.”

But on a serious note, the reason I continue to stay active and make my voice heard is because of something my parents taught me a long time ago.“If it doesn’t kill you, don’t act like it does.”

We’ve all been through an experience that has changed our lives. Everyone here, whether you experienced it directly, or know someone who did, has some moment that changes the way you perceive the world.

For some, it could be an event, like when you got accepted into college, or the time you arrived at a new place. For others, it could be getting your first job, going on your first date, finishing an entire burrito at Chipotle, or meeting your best friend. It could also be the moment you realized that you actually have no friends (you know who you are). It may be even be the day you heard a motivational speaker at a Relay for Life event; whose good looks, witty jokes, and captivating charm made you want to empty out your wallets and tip him for a job well done…..(thought I’d give it a try).

But for me, what changed my life was an experience I had as a child.

"For a long time it gave me nightmares, witnessing an injustice like that... It was a constant reminder of just how unfair this world can be... To this day, I can still hear them taunting him... "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!"... I mean, why couldn’t they just give him just cereal?!”

But for those of you who never watch the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire – you know, the episode they go camping and they get lost in the woods, they’re in the cave for the night and Carlton is talking…ah, never mind. Anyway, for those of you who never watch the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire, let me tell about another experience that changed my life.

I was 13 and in the middle of the 8th grade. Like most boys, I thought I was the invincible! I teased my younger sister, gave my parents a hard time, and ran around the house with my underwear on my head thinking I was superman. Who doesn’t? But that all changed when I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: Cancer.

Now, for a 13 year old kid, cancer didn’t really have any meaning. Sure, I heard about it before, but it was something only old people got. I knew that cancer patients were bald, looked very sick, and were always in the hospital. I also knew that after some time, I never saw some those people ever again.

But, you see, what really rattled me during my diagnosis was seeing my parents cry for the first time. It was having my parents look at me like I was about to die. It was seeing all our friends and family come in and out of house, bringing baskets of gifts and boxes of tissues. It was not being able to attend my last year of middle school, or hang out with any of my friends. It was spending every day on X-ray machines and hospital beds. It was about seeing kids younger than me go through more pain and agony that I had to. It was having numerous, painful surgeries that seemed to have no end in sight. It was all the bandages and scars. It was that my life got turned completely upside down.

That’s what cancer was for me. And today, I can’t go more than a few seconds after just hearing the word cancer without getting a little emotional. I start to remember all the things that I went through and that I saw other patients go through. I start to remember the pain.

So why then, am I here today, and every year, speaking out and sharing my experience?

It’s because I learned that if it doesn’t kill you, don’t act like it does.

But I think Kanye West said it best, quote “n-n-now th-that that that don’t kill me, can only make me stronger.” And that guy always knows what he’s talking about.

In the same way, I believe that my experiences have made ME stronger, and have allowed me to share my story with others. So if my experiences can help those who are going through the same thing right now to realize that they are not alone; or if it helps people understand the difficulties that cancer patients and their families undergo; or if I can somehow inspire just one person to help end this disease, then I feel it is my responsibility to speak out.

And that’s what events like Relay for Life are all about. It’s about helping us understand that if we fight together, we can survive together.

Because life is truly precious, and every day is a gift. And even if we face a challenge, we can still be optimistic. Because as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “its only in the darkness that you begin to see the stars.”

Well I’ve been looking, and I’ve been seeing shooting stars everywhere.

Thanks so much!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hands off my health care!

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act ensures that government does just that—lay its hands off your medical care. Here’s how:

The Affordable Care Act (i.e. “Obamacare”) helps doctors avoid having insurance companies dictate how they should treat their patients (via high overhead costs, billing limitations, and bureaucracy) ; it helps the insurance companies by adding millions to their payroll; it helps the economy by reducing the deficit; and it helps the average taxpayer by reducing their taxes.

But most importantly, the law is designed to help patients. Healthcare is supposed to be about the sick. It’s not about the doctors, the nurses, the insurance companies, the interest groups, or the politicians. It is ultimately about providing the necessary medical assistance to those who need it and are suffering.

The problem, however, is that the United States is the only industrial nation in the world that does not provide equal access to healthcare to its citizens. Despite this, the American people still pay more for their limited healthcare than their counterparts in other countries.

The Affordable Care Act, therefore, provides a fix to this problem by cutting costs and expanding coverage. But these goals are harder to achieve without an individual mandate, the issue now facing our Supreme Court.

Everyone needs healthcare. But without an individual mandate, costs will increase for all of us when those who decided to “free-ride”, and not buy health insurance, face an unexpected illness which forces them to get more expensive care from the hospital ERs. When this occurs, and these people can’t afford that care, their treatment costs are absorbed by hospitals. The hospitals, in turn, raise the cost of their services on the insured. Furthermore, insurance companies raise their premiums on policyholders.

Prior to Obamacare, this has been the situation, and has cost the average taxpayer an additional $1000 per year in taxes. Thus, those of us who have played by the rules have been forced to give free emergency care to those uninsured. This, in essence, has been the true “individual mandate.”

In the 1990s, Republicans proposed the individual mandate as a counter-part to President Bill Clinton’s universal health-care bill. It was their idea in the first place. But now that Obama has put his stamp on it, they must oppose it. But if the individual mandate is overturned by the Supreme Court, it will only increase the need for a single-payer system.

Under Obama’s law, healthcare is NOT a government-run program. There is no single-payer system, and private-insurance companies still run the market. What Obamacare did was stay true to the capitalistic principals of the free market and break-up the monopolies that health insurance companies held. Specifically, he made sure that these companies would not deny coverage based on preexisting conditions, gave people the flexibility of changing their insurance companies, and provided the uninsured with affordable care.

If opponents of Obamacare successfully repeal the law, the nation’s uninsured would rise again. And with an individual mandate that is now “unconstitutional”, we must follow the lead of nations such as Great Britain, France, Germany, and Canada that provide universal healthcare for their citizens.

So we can either start trying to fix the many other problems our nation is facing, or we can continue to debate about whether or not a cancer patient should receive affordable healthcare. Either way, the government will need to play a role in how our healthcare system works. The question, then, is how large of a role they play.