On the evening of December 8, 2014 Victor Saldivar received a life-changing phone call from his doctor’s office. After having gone in for a CT scan on his liver and kidneys that morning, he got the call asking him to come in the next day. “I’m in trouble,” Victor thought.
The following day Victor found himself anxiously waiting in the exam room at his doctor’s office. The doctor walked in and point blank told him “You have kidney cancer. You have cancer in your kidney. You have a little small tumor in your kidney, and it’s cancerous.”
Sitting in the doctor’s office, Victor began trying to process the news. “I just didn’t know what to think. I was like, blank.” The cancer was particularly shocking to Victor because he hadn’t had any noticeable symptoms. The CT scan had been ordered following an unusual ultrasound and blood result after a routine physical exam.
When Victor received his diagnosis, he had health insurance. But, things had not always been that way for him. Victor grew up in Lark, Utah, a mining company town. As a child, preventive health care meant Victor and each of his 10 siblings were given a spoonful of cod liver oil and an orange wedge every day in the winter. As the mines began closing, the town of Lark was abandoned in 1978.
Victor eventually left Utah to attend cosmetology school in California, but found himself back in Utah shortly after to start his business as a hairdresser. At the beginning of his career, Victor enrolled in health insurance, but as his premium costs rose he eventually cancelled his insurance plan. In fact, Victor went 20 years without insurance. He felt that he simply couldn’t afford it at the time.
Over the years, Victor paid for his healthcare out of pocket or saw doctors at the Maliheh free clinic. After the Affordable Care Act Marketplace launched in 2013, Victor saw his opportunity to get health insurance. “I knew I needed something to cover me more.” Victor called the Insurance Marketplace and took his time considering plans with the representative. He eventually found a plan he was happy with and enrolled. Less than a year later, Victor received his cancer diagnosis.
Victor’s surgery was scheduled for January. With the weight of the upcoming surgery on his shoulders, the holidays were much quieter that year.
When the day of his surgery finally arrived, Victor went in and had the tumor removed laparoscopically with three small incisions. Victor returned home to recover in his recliner, but within a week and a half he was already feeling up to taking short trips out of the house.
Later follow-up doctor’s visits confirmed the success of the surgery and Victor returned to life as usual, but his perspective on health care was fundamentally changed. The fortunate timing of getting insurance coverage before the cancer was diagnosed was something Victor has thought about a great deal since then.
“If I didn’t have insurance and then we located this cancer, I probably would be writing my will and saying goodbye to friends. That’s what the doctor said too,” Victor explained.
Victor recognizes the struggle that many people across Utah face accessing affordable health care, because he’s been there himself. For years health insurance seemed an unaffordable luxury instead of a necessity for him. But receiving a cancer diagnosis completely changed Victor’s view on enrolling in insurance. For Victor, health insurance became the difference between life and death.
“Everyone should be insured. Everyone needs to be insured. I just think everyone should have health care. It makes me sad when people don’t have insurance. Because you don’t know what could happen. I had no idea I had this cancer. And like I said, if I didn’t have healthcare, I would have been fighting for my life six months ago and I probably would be getting ready to die. ‘Cause no one’s going to foot the bill.”