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From California to D.C.

“If someone is to get cancer, this is the best one with the best prognosis,” my brother’s oncologist told him as the doctor finally confirmed that my brother had between Stage 3 and Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After that moment this year, I couldn’t fathom what his life was going to be like.

Only 8,500 people in the United States are diagnosed annually with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, making it a rare cancer, and my brother was one of them. I was infuriated that something like this could happen to a 17-year-old, but the repercussions of his treatment were even more enraging. The regimen my brother received required him to stay in the hospital each time he received treatment, which added expenses to his already rigorous regimen. Thankfully, my brother was covered under my parents’ insurance – but both hospital stays and treatment are still very expensive for my family. We’re among the lucky, though; there were 28 million people uninsured in the United States in 2016, and some estimate that one in four people in the U.S. will die of cancer. Putting that into perspective made me realize how fortunate my brother was to receive treatment and continue with his life by being in full remission.

Months prior to my brother’s diagnosis, I visited Peru for a mobile clinic as a Medlife volunteer. Collectively we helped set up clinics to provide medicines and health education, and assist local doctors. People we attended to at these clinics lacked adequate water, sanitation and basic necessities to prevent diseases. These barriers contributed to their poor health, and even those who appeared healthy had underlying conditions that only local doctors could diagnose. However, I was shocked that medicines were unaffordable and inaccessible.

These two experiences in particular made me think deeper about health policy in the United States and around the world.

In early 2018, as my brother was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, I made a decision to apply to the UC Davis Washington Program. Through the program I found Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program.

My time with Public Citizen has been one of the most galvanizing experiences of my life thus far. Over the course of two months, I’ve learned a lot about drug pricing and the entanglement of it with intellectual property law. Although I had little prior knowledge of any of this, I was quickly immersed in everything relating to lowering drug prices.

I worked on projects including creating a table of state legislative efforts to curb price gouging as well as drafting a document on drug pricing stances of the new Democrats in Congress. Through these projects, I gradually learned the complexity of the health care system.

I have been fortunate enough to work alongside passionate people who are willing to teach me. This experience gives me hope that change is coming, and that although there are many health care disparities, people are working to make a difference. Going forward after this internship, I know fighting to lower drug prices is a movement I will continue to engage in. I hope that one day no one has to worry, as my family has, about the cost of cancer and basic necessities, all of which should be basic human rights.