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'Face of Obamacare' talks remission, health care

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    Natoma Canfield of Medina Township is shown Wednesday with a framed copy of the letter she originally wrote to President Barack Obama in 2009 urging him to keep fighting for health care reform.

    LAWRENCE PANTAGES / GAZETTE

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    Natoma Canfield looks at framed correspondence from President Barack Obama on Wednesday in her Medina Township home.

    LAWRENCE PANTAGES / GAZETTE

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    Sisters Connie Anderson and Natoma Canfield are shown Thursday at Canfield's Medina Township home with a framed photo of themselves aboard Air Force One with President Barack Obama in 2015.

    LAWRENCE PANTAGES / GAZETTE

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    Natoma Canfield of Medina Township shows framed photos and correspondence with figures from Washington, D.C., whom she met over the years during her advocacy for federal health care reform.

    LAWRENCE PANTAGES / GAZETTE

The Medina Township woman who became known as a “face of Obamacare” is delighted to say she is cancer-free.

Natoma Canfield is watching with interest the ongoing debate in Washington, D.C., about the future of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s federal health care program passed in 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 type of blood cancer. In the years between 2010 and now, her family estimates she has been hospitalized a total of 24 months.

Although she didn’t benefit from Obamacare specifically, 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 cured.

“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 said she has neuropathy in her hands and feet and it has affected her abilities “to be a creative artist” and she has trouble using a computer.

Canfield, 57, no longer works because of her disabilities.

‘Shrine to Obama’

More than 15 framed photos of her meetings with Obama and other government leaders are on the mantle of the fireplace and placed 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 the former president 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 has been 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 made a visit to Strongsville in 2010 as the ACA was on its way to being passed by Congress. The sisters’ most recent audience with the president was Jan. 6.

“They invited us to what was being called a ‘function,’ ” Canfield said.

No sit-down meal was part of the visit at Blair House, known as the president’s guest house in the nation’s capital. “There were just cookies,” Canfield said.

She spent a little 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 Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy),” Canfield said.

Photos from that occasion were sent to her.

‘I’m watching everything’

But those days are in the past as a new president, Donald Trump, and a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are promising changes to the ACA. Their oft-repeated phrase is “repeal and replace” because opponents say costs are increasing.

“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 through (in 2010). It’s basically a Republican plan and now they hate it. It’s kind of confusing.”

With Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, Canfield said it seems “they had a great opportunity to make it (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 continuing developments in the story, 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 Managing Editor Lawrence Pantages at (330) 721-4065 or lpantages@medina-gazette.com.



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