Winning Awards, Working Through Illness and Pain, (Bureaucracy) too.

In one of the earlier blog posts, I wrote about how Graham Baldwin, a 49-year-old environmental building and development inspector in Maryland, kept working despite his pain and his battle with head and neck cancer.

He goes to work. The pain intensifies. He goes to work. It gets worse. He works more.

And wins an award? Yes. Baldwin was recently named an award winner for his work. I’ve seen the award, the “highest award, distinguished service” from the county where he is employed.

Despite his illness, sources say he is well-respected by his peers and also is tough-as-nails when necessary to ensure the job gets done. He doesn’t like the idea people around him get a hint of his sickness, the awful feeling of weakness, the bleeding, and nausea. He works odd hours to get the job done, or not be seen as much.

Baldwin’s illness is rare. Head and neck cancers account for about only 3 percent of all cancers in the U.S. These cancers are nearly twice as common among men as they are among women.

And Baldwin is a rare guy: How many people who are wracked with pain also rack up awards – for their continued hard work? Defying the odds, Graham Baldwin has been battling cancer for several years and seeing the costs of care skyrocket. (See related story on this page, “Having a Rare 3 Percent of Cancers, Graham Baldwin Needs Your Help”).

In 2006, soon after his wife’s death, Graham was diagnosed with benign tumors in his head and throat. For the next several years, he was treated by an ENT and underwent 5 surgeries to remove tumors. Around 2011, he noticed a lump in his neck and then was diagnosed.

He keeps going to work, despite intense pain. It’s almost Un-American: According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, employers in the U.S. lose over $60 billion a year due to workers who are not meeting their full potential due to pain and pain-related issues.

Graham has been confronting a maze of bills and insurance issues for more than a decade, struggling to learn what procedures to get next, what surgeries may be delayed because of lack of money. Post-cancer treatment infections in his jaw have become more dangerous and now deadly, with every postponement of surgeries and treatments he desperately needs to go forward.

Yes. You read that correctly. Surgeries delayed because of the lack of payment.

It’s ironic, here we are in a political maelstrom over Obamacare, with Republicans intent on erasing it, and town halls filled with people saying they desperately need their insurance coverage, worried about pre-existing conditions, or wondering how young people in their families are going to be insured.

Amidst those fights, there are the real struggles, for someone like Graham, who has insurance but it’s not enough. Insurance. But not enough. A contradiction in terms, no? People like Graham seek and deserve a chance to keep fighting.

Even under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) – the idea being that there will be healthcare for millions more (and there has) –  the struggle for adequate insurance payment for needy patients continues. In January 2016, the American Journal of Medicine blog noted a New York Times story that found “insurance often fails as a safety net.”

“Health plans often require hundreds or thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket payments, sums that can create a cascade of financial troubles,” especially for those living from paycheck to paycheck, Times writer Margot Sanger-Katz wrote.

Sanger-Katz came up with a solution, of sorts.

“Here is the surest way to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having health insurance: Don’t get sick,” Sanger-Katz wrote.

For now, Graham Baldwin doesn’t have that luxury.

(Graham and his family have many friends, who are trying to raise money for his care at this crucial time. Graham established a gofundme page, which friends have supported.)

Joe Cantlupe

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