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The Survivor Monologues


Smith is a Jamaican immigrant who lives in the Bronx with his wife. In 2001, he survived prostate cancer. When he was diagnosed with bone-marrow cancer last year, he was unemployed and without insurance.

At one time, I was financially well off. I was a CPA in Jamaica, but my business went bad and I lost nearly everything. That was part of the reason why I came here. I went to work for this gentleman who had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair. My job was to drive him around and generally help him live his life. He had come down with this illness at the peak of his career, but he was so positive, not bitter. He was fortunate to be in the position he was in, because he was able to get care for everything that he got.

After he passed away, I lost my job. So I had no insurance when I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare form of bone-marrow cancer. I was at North Central Hospital in the Bronx. They asked me what insurance I had. When I said I didn’t have any, they said they’d take it from there. The social workers put in the applications for Medicaid. The drugs that I got for my treatment—there’s no way I could have afforded them. Once, I needed an emergency treatment, which required a lot of red tape to get it covered by Medicaid. So they called the ambulance—while I was already in the hospital. It took me from one section into the emergency room.

I don’t really have a fear of death, more of a fear of pain. Sometimes I wonder why I’m not more depressed. I look at it this way. I’ve had serious financial reverses, which threw me into very bad depression, to the extent that I felt that there was no purpose in life. But having survived that, I realized that no matter how bad things are, there is some hope. I carry on as normal. Some of my relatives and friends chipped in to help with living costs. My son is an EMT, and he’s moved in with me and my wife to help support us. My wife works part time as a nanny and she sells Avon and I help her. And I do some tutoring work and telemarketing to make extra money. Now, I’m waiting to get a bone-marrow transplant. And I’m hoping to do that with Montefiore, but am sorting out the Medicaid paperwork. My treatments, until now, were covered by emergency Medicaid, but I have to transfer to permanent Medicaid. So right now I’m coasting.


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