Ultimate health-care lesson: God’s in charge

If someone told 28-year-old Brittany Cameron at the beginning of the year she’d have brain surgery, lose her best friend, and be without a full-time job and health insurance at the end of the year, she would’ve laughed.

“It’s been crazy,” she told the Denver Catholic Register. “But God has shone through in those moments.”

The year’s challenges, while leaving her vulnerable, also revealed new strength in her—strength fostered by God’s divine support as well as the practical support of others—strength to carry her into a new year.

Cameron has been living with a tumor in her pituitary gland since doctors diagnosed it 12 years ago. Though noncancerous, it warranted a strict routine of medication and regular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) testing.

“I’d have good days and bad days,” she said. “Basically, I just tried to ignore it.”

Last January, an MRI detected changes to the tumor. She tried to remain cautiously optimistic as she headed to a follow-up appointment with her neurosurgeon. At the same time, she was suffering with shingles and had a heavy heart as she grieved the passing of her pet and “best friend” of 13 years, Chewy, a Lhasa Apso mix.

“I was thinking ‘I really need good news today,’” she recalled.

She was not prepared for the news the doctor delivered: “We need to do major brain surgery.”

“I was shocked,” Cameron said, not only because of the seriousness of the surgery to remove the tumor, but also the ensuing time in intensive care and need to take several weeks off from her fulltime job as a corporate event manager.

She was also in the thick of training for her third Tough Mudder challenge—a 12-mile obstacle course that tests participants’ strength, stamina and mental toughness with a series of hurdles such as mud, fire and ice-water.

“I was really bummed,” she said of not being able to participate in the event she had planned for May in Chicago. “The Tough Mudder training really aligned to my spiritual discipline and was keeping me going.”

In May, surgery successfully removed 99 percent of the tumor. While recovering, Cameron was overcome by the support she received from family, friends and her faith community at St. Thomas More Parish in Centennial where she serves as a lay minister for the young adult group.

“I hate receiving help,” she said. “But I had to let others in. … I was overwhelmed by the support of people being there with me, praying for me and helping me physically.”

During that time, a friend reminded her that “even Jesus couldn’t carry his own cross.”How Obamacare Impacts Colorado

“That really humbled me,” she said. “It taught me to let others help, which was really a different experience for me.”

Following a recent reorganization with her employer, Cameron is now faced with losing her health insurance coverage as of Dec. 31, a significant concern given her medical history.

“I was on the Connect for Health Colorado site yesterday; it’s super confusing,” was her initial feedback Dec. 11 about the state’s health insurance marketplace that opened in October for individuals, families and small employers as a result of the federal healthcare overhaul.

In spite of the confusion, after several hours of research on the site, she potentially qualified for Medicaid, but opted for a private plan. The price range of $199 to $300 per month for the private plan, that included her current doctors, compared favorably to nearly $500 per month for COBRA continuation health coverage that’s offered to employees up to 18 months after terminating.

It was another piece of the story she’s convinced God has painted for her.

“I’m covered, (but) I hope I get a fulltime job quickly,” she said. “With the future up in the air, I trust an unknown future to a known God. He’s going to take care of me.”

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”