Eight months ago, I received a phone call that utterly terrified and transformed me. The doctor on the other end of the line informed me that I had an eleven centimeter mass in the center of my chest. Subsequent tests and surgeries revealed that I had been silently invaded by a form of cancer, specifically non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and other lymphoma tumors were rapidly multiplying within me.
Six months later, after six rounds of chemo, four spinal taps with chemo, and five weeks of radiation, I was declared entirely cancer-free. I had achieved complete remission, and was able to return to the classroom from which I had abruptly disappeared in mid-February.
There are no libertarians in emergency rooms, and there is no rugged individualism on operating tables. I owe my survival to the small, indefatigable army of doctors, nurses, and technicians whose skill and sagacity was equalled only by a patience and kindness that I did not deserve, but always received. They were swift. They were dedicated. They made me well. They saved my life.
Yet, the stellar health care that delivered me from oblivion was inextricably intertwined with, and underwritten by, the outstanding healthy care benefits procured by this union, SJTA. Without the outstanding benefits package won for the teachers of SJUSD, I would NOT have been able to see the specialist who painstakingly unraveled the mystery of precisely what kind of exotic lymphoma I had. Without the stellar health benefits package won for us by SJTA, my personal finances would have buckled and burst beneath the tsunami of bills for PET SCANS, MRIs, blood draws, radiation therapy, chemo infusions, biopsies, surgeries, etc.
Once I knew that, thanks to SJTA, I would not have to worry about medical expenses, I was not only flooded with relief, but I was able to fully focus on recovery and healing. Every time I received an explanation of benefits showing another medical expense that I did not have to pay, I thought, “THAT’S WHY I HAVE A UNION!”
Every year I teach my students about the great labor union leader, Samuel Gompers. Founder of the AFL, Gompers promoted “bread and butter unionism,” urging a focus on improved economic basics for workers such as better pay, better working conditions, and shorter hours for American workers. Quality health care is an equally essential element of bread and butter unionism, and all members of SJTA continue to look to our union for such bread and butter benefit options.
Those benefits saved me as much as any doctor.
Jim Cullison teaches history at Lincoln High School.