Va. delegate talks about breast cancer battle

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) –Shortly after the start of the 2014 General Assembly, I talked to Delegate Delores McQuinn in her Capitol office about being a public figure while fighting a life-threatening illness.

“I could not function. It was so devastating, I was gravely ill,” said McQuinn.

McQuinn talks openly about it now, but there was a time when only her family and close friends knew she was sick.

At the time she was on the school board and the mother of two young children.  She was 37 years-old and fighting breast cancer.  It started when she noticed a discharge from her nipple, which can be a warning sign.

“What propelled me to call the doctor was the fact there was blood in the discharge,” said McQuinn.

A biopsy confirmed it was an aggressive form of breast cancer.

McQuinn was treated with a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy, and a drug to reduce the risk for reoccurrence. She’s now cancer-free.

In the 21 years since she completed her treatment, McQuinn has served on Richmond’s City Council, and is now in the General Assembly.  She has become a prominent breast cancer advocate.

“I have not taken it for granted that God has spared me, and elevated me to places that I could do something about it,” said McQuinn.

A priority for many of her fellow breast cancer advocates is the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia.

It’s a politically divisive issue that’s supported by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

One advocate says expanding the federally-funded health insurance program would allow more women to enroll in programs such as “Every Woman’s Life” which provide free breast and cervical cancer screening.

Breast cancer advocates I’ve talked to say right now only 10 to 15 percent of uninsured and underinsured women are being helped.

But not everyone believes that expanding Medicaid is in the best interest of Virginians.

Some Republicans, like House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, say that expansion would mean low-income families would have less access to general practitioners, forcing them to turn to emergency rooms for health care.

Cox also says he doesn’t believe the federal government will keep its promise, when it comes to helping pay the bill.

“You know – the 90 percent supposed funding?  That, of course, will eventually come down.” said Cox.  “We are convinced that will absolutely not happen. We consider that will be another broken promise, like you can keep your doctor, you can keep your insurance.  So the whole structure of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion we think is very problematic.”.

McQuinn says she’s optimistic Medicaid will be expanded in Virginia, but knows it won’t be easy.

“The citizens of the Commonwealth need it,” said McQuinn.  “And from my understanding, we’re losing five million dollars a day that’s being sent somewhere else. This is resources we need here to take care of those who are here.”

Taking care of underserved women is one reason why McQuinn sponsored a bill in 2013 mandating that local health departments provide detailed reports to the state health commissioner on their efforts to promote breast cancer awareness to increase early detection and reduce death rates.

Those reports are expected to start coming this month.