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B-N Family's Cancer Story Helps Warren Make Case For Medicare For All

Rachel and Warren
Rachel Lapp Whitt, right, with her daughter Ramona and mother, pose with Sen. Elizabeth Warren at an event in Indiana last summer.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has picked up a key endorsement: Rachel Lapp Whitt and Thomas Whitt of Bloomington.

They are not celebrities or political powerbrokers. They’re parents. Their 8-year-old daughter, Ramona Lapp Whitt, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Last summer Rachel and Ramona traveled to a Warren campaign stop in Elkhart, Ind. They had a brief interaction with Warren in her infamous selfie line. Rachel mentioned Ramona’s cancer and urged Warren to continue fighting for universal health care.

Months later, the family was surprised to hear Warren recall their story during a CNN town hall, then again in a piece in The New York Times about her most memorable moments on the campaign trail.

“I met a mom and a little girl a couple months back. The little girl was delightful. We took our picture and did our pinkie promise,” Warren said on CNN. “The little girl bounces off the stage, and the mother reaches over to give me a hug and says, ‘Please, please fight for universal health care. She has brain cancer, and we’re not sure how long we’re gonna last.’”

Several family friends heard about Warren’s comments and thought it sounded familiar.

“We looked each other and was Rachel was like, ‘That’s us! She’s talking about us,’” Thomas said.

Rachel and Thomas contacted the Warren campaign. Recently they appeared in a video ad for the campaign, helping make Warren’s argument for Medicare For All.


“To feel that we had a voice was helpful for us in thinking about ways we can continue to advocate for awareness of the struggles of other people in our community,” Rachel said on WGLT's Sound Ideas. “Awareness of what families with children with cancer go through. It’s very easy to become isolated. It’s really easy to think you need to struggle on alone because it’s a hard topic. It’s hard to hear about someone else’s child suffering.”

Ramona's Story

Rachel and Thomas said they chose to share their story to help highlight the need for a better health care system.

Their cancer experience began just before Ramona’s 4th birthday. She was having trouble gripping with her right hand. Her right foot was dragging. Soon, they got the nightmare diagnosis: a brain tumor, the size of a lemon. It was ependymoma, a rare form of brain concern.

"I feel like there has to be a different approach that puts people back at the center of health care."

They said they're lucky to have employer-provided insurance through Thomas’ job (in the medical field). But it’s still upended the family’s life and finances.

Health care is not an abstract policy issue for their family. Thomas said the Affordable Care Act has had a significant impact on the family, specifically the elimination of lifetime or annual caps on what insurers chip in to cover a particular patient's bills. The ACA also set an annual maximum on the amount of money a patient must contribute to help cover the bills.

“It’s just frankly sickening to see in a country like ours people doing GoFundMes when their kids get sick,” Thomas said. “It’s just unacceptable to us.”

In the campaign ad for Warren, Rachel said she too supports Medicare For All, or single-payer health care. It envisions the creation of a national health insurance program, with coverage provided to everyone. Private health insurance would mostly go away, and there would be no premiums or cost-sharing for patients. 

Rachel said, as a former project manager, she appreciates Warren’s “attention to planning and detail” in her policy proposals.

“I’m looking at health care as a mother who’s experienced one of the more traumatic medical crises that a family can experience. I’ve sat in countless waiting rooms with other parents who have binders and huge boxes of records of everything their child has been treated for, and the billing that’s gone along with that,” Rachel said.

“The fact that they’re having to act as their own ombudsman with insurance companies, with hospitals, with treatment centers, with myriad services that they receive and are so grateful for … I feel like there has to be a different approach that puts people back at the center of health care. That doesn’t place money and profits and politics above the health and well-being of people,” she said.

Today, Ramona is closing in on her ninth birthday. She’s a prolific artist, and she’s writing a play and movie script. She has a quiet sparkle to her.

“She just has so much life in her,” Rachel said. “Getting her to sleep at night can be difficult because she just says, ‘Oh mom, there are so many more things I want to do today.’”

You can also listen to the full interview:

WGLT's full interview with Rachel Lapp Whitt and Thomas Whitt.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.