MEDINA TWP. — The woman who became known as a “face of Obamacare” is delighted to say she is cancer-free.
Natoma Canfield is watching the ongoing debate in Washington about the future of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s federal health care program signed into law March 23, 2010.
Canfield became associated with health reform in the most personal of ways after she wrote a letter to the White House in December 2009 asking the president to keep working hard on reforming a system that was costing her more than $500 a month for insurance with rates continually rising.
She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1995. In 2010, she developed acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer. Since 2010, her family estimates she has been hospitalized a total of 24 months.
Although she didn’t benefit from Obamacare directly, Canfield has said she was able to receive treatments for her leukemia through a compassionate-use program sponsored by the federal government.
“In a way, I was lucky it was one of the few things that could be treated by compassionate care,” she said in a previous story. “But what if I wasn’t?”
She said her oncologist told her a month ago she was cancer-free.
“I was celebrating remission. I know I’m in line for other cancers with the massive radiation that I’ve had. But it’s a marvelous story. I’m rejoicing.”
Canfield, 57, said she has neuropathy in her hands and feet. It has affected her ability to be an artist, and she has trouble using a computer. She no longer works because of her disabilities.
A ‘shrine to Obama’
More than 15 framed photos of her meetings with Obama and other government leaders are on the fireplace mantel and on stands below, reminding her of her persistence in calling attention to the problems people with health care issues face.
“We call it the ‘shrine to Obama,’ ” she said of the photo display.
Her first contact with Obama was in 2010 when she received a phone call while a patient at Medina Hospital about her letter, which eventually was framed in the Oval Office.
She ended up meeting Obama five times. Her constant companion for such trips was her sister, Connie Anderson, who met the president on seven occasions.
“There were two times when Natoma was in the hospital,” Anderson said.
Anderson introduced Obama when he visited Strongsville in 2010 as the ACA was on its way to passage.
The sisters’ most-recent audience with the former president was Jan. 6 at the Blair House, the president’s guest house in Washington, D.C.
“They invited us to what was being called a ‘function,’ ” Canfield said.
She spent time with former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama for eight years.
“I also got to meet Patrick Kennedy (son of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts),” Canfield said.
‘I’m watching everything’
But those days are past as President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress are promising to “repeal and replace” the ACA.
“I’m very perplexed in many ways about it,” Canfield said. “Originally, President Obama had used a Republican plan. He had to tweak it to get it through (in 2010). It’s basically a Republican plan, and now they hate it. It’s kind of confusing.”
Canfield said it seems Republicans “had a great opportunity to make (Obamacare) even better. But it doesn’t look like that’s happening.”
She said she has learned enough about government programs to understand they may not be perfect when they are implemented.
“When things are in their early stages, it needs tweaked and tweaked again. I don’t think any of us can be really sure. It’s a very complex problem.”
Canfield knows about the issues of pre-existing medical conditions, increasing the number of people who get coverage and the high costs of insurance premiums.
“When they started monkeying with this, it’s such a great plan,” she said. “They’re going to have a lot of problems topping it. They should be able to put together something so wonderful. But they all have to work together and do it.”
She said she remembers a story about people in Kentucky who said they didn’t like Obamacare. But when the state health exchange program was called by a different name — Kynect — “it was working well. Whatever ‘-care’ you want to call it, they realized it was good for their pocketbooks and their lives, and the ones who don’t realize that are soon going to find out how much it helped them.”
Asked how closely she follows the developments, Canfield said, “I’m watching everything.”
She said a positive approach to health care is important.
“I am an optimist and think it can be done,” she said.
But those long months of hospitalization — “massive periods,” she called them — will never be forgotten.
“I know what it was like to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Contact Lawrence Pantages at (330) 721-4065 or firstname.lastname@example.org.