Gwen Moore has cancer and she wants to talk about it

For the congresswoman, quality coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is personal.

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 15: Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., arrives for the House Democrats' caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 15: Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisc., arrives for the House Democrats' caucus meeting in the Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) has cancer, but she’s fighting back and did so early.

The congresswoman, representing Wisconsin’s 4th congressional district for over a decade, was first diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma in June; it’s a non-Hodgkin lymphoma where the cancer originates in the lymphatic system or the disease-fighting network throughout the body.

“It is sort of a silent kind of cancer,” she told ThinkProgress by phone. “Many people would not even know that they had it, had it not, in my case, triggered secondary impacts that were pretty significant that forced me to have to try and treat it.”

It’s manageable now, because she caught it early and takes medication daily.

“Just ever contracting the big C-word, cancer, was a death sentence automatically and people didn’t want to talk about it. But thank God for research, thank God for health insurance and early detection,” Moore said.


She will officially share the news of her diagnosis during Tuesday’s House Ways and Means Committee hearing on protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, positioning herself as a living example of why people need health care. Her privileges — having quality, affordable insurance — are not lost on her. Indeed, that’s why she’s decided to make the announcement at a hearing where lawmakers plan to discuss the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) consumer protections, a major topic during the midterm elections, as it impacts upwards of 133 million non-elderly Americans who may have a pre-existing condition.

“I am just a grain of sand on a beach,” she said, going on to describe how she and so many others like her have medical conditions that insurance companies used as reasons to deny coverage or charge more, before the ACA. Her oral medication, Imbruvica, keeps her in remission and costs $15,000 per month. Before that, she had intravenous therapy twice a month that cost $20,000.

“If I had to pay $15,000 a month for this medicine, I’d be here writing my obituary perhaps instead of talking to you,” she said.

This is all to say, she’s “quadrupling” down on her support for the ACA. With Democrats having control of the House, members more broadly are aiming to mitigate the damage done to the 2010 health law over the last two years.

Moore, specifically, is going to fight to bring back the individual mandate requiring people to have health insurance, as it was zeroed out in the GOP tax bill, which was first passed by the Way and Means Committee over a year ago in 2017. Some experts recommend that Congress save the individual mandate to protect the ACA from the courts who could easily rule the entire law unconstitutional, as one Texas federal judge already did.


Health is already scary, politics aside. When Moore was first diagnosed, she was in denial and didn’t want to accept the fact she was already experiencing the cancerous symptoms.

“The mere suggestion that it could be cancer was anathema to me because nobody ever wants to hear the C-word,” she said.

“All of the while that I was going through the diagnosis and the care that I was getting, I thought about the number of people that I knew who die needlessly from cancer because they didn’t get early diagnosis. I personally know people who marched into the emergency room two weeks before they died because they didn’t have health insurance.

It’s not unprecedented for elected officials to publicly share how their lived experiences affect the way they govern. One of Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) bottom lines in 2002 was opposing the Authorization for Use of Military Force — which gave President George W. Bush and every president thereafter authority to effectively go to war without congressional approval — because she grew up in a military family and knew firsthand, she said, how “the use of force should only be the last option.”

One of the first bills Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) co-sponsored was a bill demanding backpay for hourly wage federal workers who lost money during the partial government shutdown. She cited her own experience as a hotel worker as the inspiration behind her support.

Moore has already been forthright about the time she was on welfare, and uses the experience often to inform her legislation and advocacy. Now, she’s sharing again, and though it may be difficult, she wants people to know why she prioritizes health care and how her politics reflect the deeply personal.