I Have An 85% Risk Of Breast Cancer — & I'm Running For Office Because Of It

Photo: Courtesy of Alejandra Campoverdi.
Alejandra Campoverdi was the first-ever deputy director of Hispanic media under President Obama. She is one of 23 candidates in tomorrow's special election to replace Xavier Becerra as a United States congressperson representing the 34th District of California.
I’ve knocked on many doors over the course of my campaign for Congress in the current special election in California’s 34th District, but there was one door in particular that I won’t soon forget.
The GOP’s proposed bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was collapsing in real time as I made my way down a block of humble single-family homes that Friday night. One house had its shutters drawn, and I almost walked past it because its inhabitants seemed to purposely relay the message of “not home.” Something made me stop.
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An older woman opened the door. It was dusk outside, and hard to see her face, but I could tell she was smiling as I introduced myself. “Hi, I’m Alejandra Campoverdi and I am running for Congress to represent you and to fight for you in Washington.”
She warmly welcomed me into her darkened living room, illuminated only by the flickering light of a television. There I noticed a younger woman quietly sitting on the couch. She had a blue beanie on her bald head, and I knew. I recognized that look in her eyes that I know so well.
Breast cancer has ravaged my family for generations, as is the case for millions of Americans. My great-grandmother had it, my grandmother died from it, my mother survived it, and my aunt just finished chemo to treat it. I watched my mother struggle with subpar care at the hands of doctors who treated her like a number. The first question I asked my aunt when she was diagnosed was “do you have health insurance” because I knew she would go bankrupt otherwise.
The women in my family carry the BRCA2 gene mutation, which increases one’s risk of developing breast cancer to 85%, and a couple years ago, I discovered that I have inherited the mutation as well.
Alejandra Campoverdi and her mother, Cecilia Medellin.
I know all too well what’s at stake when our access to affordable quality healthcare is compromised and that’s why I decided to run for office. Now more than ever, we need representatives in Washington who actually understand the real-life implications of their policy decisions.
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I didn’t think I’d ever talk about my personal health publicly, let alone in the ad for my congressional campaign, but the stakes have now gotten too high. It’s time to put everything on the line for one another. The fact that I’ve decided to have a preventative double mastectomy in the future to lower my cancer risk is a personal choice that every woman armed with this information should make for herself. But therein lies the rub.
As women, our choice…our health…our rights — they are all on the table right now. Donald Trump and Republicans have turned us into shadowboxers in the dark, and we always seem to find ourselves on the ropes when it comes to our bodies.
When GOP Senator Pat Roberts recently joked, “I sure don’t want my mammogram benefits taken away,” as it related to the potential scrapping of the ACA’s Essential Health Benefits mandate, we took a hit.
When Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate targeting Planned Parenthood funding and sacrificing the health of millions of women, we took a hit.
When only white men filled the room to discuss the future of women’s health insurance, we took a hit.
When Donald Trump signed an executive action to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, banning federal funding for international nongovernment organizations that offer safe abortion access, we took a hit.
And the hits will keep coming.
Women’s rights — women’s bodies — are under siege in Washington. We know the next punch is on its way, just not when, or from what direction.
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These are the times when our collective strength as women must come into play. We can’t do this without each other. We need eyes in the back of our heads.
As women, we are many times pitted against one another and sold the idea that our relevance is in our individual selves. We are trained by consumer culture and social media to buy into the absurd contradiction that being the “only one” is more powerful than being “one of millions.”
Yet our power right now lies in how well we pull together. We need to find every opportunity to have each other’s backs — from marches to strikes to petitions to stands. Figure out what your fight is, who is best engaging in it, and join in. I chose to run for office. But there are many other ways to stand up, and your group is out there, waiting for you with open arms, a T-shirt, and a list of things to do.
We each have a role to play here. Look at your own skills, industries and talents and put them to work to support other women, especially the ones around you. Whether you are in college, Silicon Valley, the entertainment industry, business, or politics. We need all-hands-on-deck.
This is existential.
In that living room last Friday night, I found yet another peer, another ally in battle. I listened as that young woman told me about all the times she’d had to move in order to see an oncologist, and about her fear that soon she might have no health insurance at all. She talked about how vulnerable she felt to the constant changing tide in Washington and how she feels anxious that the fight to protect our healthcare isn’t over. I had to agree with her.
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I could feel her strength as we shared a long hug goodbye of solidarity. She wasn’t going down easy, and I promised the same. This would be bigger than the two of us, after all, and that was clearer than ever as I walked out her door.
If women’s bodies are to be the battleground, we’ll best steel ourselves for a relentless war of independence together.
Take your best shot, Mr. President.
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