Proving Your Pain

Today I called an airline for a refund on a flight I had scheduled prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was quite an ordeal.

In November 2019, I bought tickets to travel to Austin, TX, in May 2020. I had no clue that I would be diagnosed with breast cancer weeks later, how expensive cancer be as I worked to improve and maintain my quality of life, how challenging it would be to interact with medical providers and loved ones, how much pressure it is to take care of others even when I needed care, how the COVID-19 pandemic would intersect with my cancer and fertility treatment, how emotional freezing my eggs would be, and how George Floyd’s murder would place the United States’ racism under a magnifying glass in ways that reminded me of the ways others and myself have experienced racism in this country.

By the way, George Floyd’s murder happened a few days after I ended radiation treatment and a day after I wrote about racism in How Close Does Pain Need to Be to Impact Your Spirituality? For a number of reasons, I already was spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted. Then more global issues started to overlap with my personal issues and amplify them.

Earlier this summer, I started another blog on my other website so that I could have another outlet for my critical thoughts and emotions on these moments in history. Writing has been helpful, but I recognize that the structural and systemic issues in the United States demand structural and systemic solutions.

I cannot control everything, but I have agency in the areas where I have power and influence.

One area where I had agency was requesting a refund for my flight to Austin. In March 2020, I requested a refund through an online form and was granted a travel credit to be used within 365 days of the date of issuance for my travel credit. At the time, I wanted to call for a refund, but there was so much happening in my life that I pushed it aside.

Today I called the airline for a refund. After being on hold for so long, I finally had the opportunity to explain that I had health concerns and likely would not be able to use the travel credit by its expiration date. The representative noted that the expiration date was not for a long time. I responded that I understood that, but I expressed again that I had health concerns and there likely would not be a vaccine by the time of the expiration date. The representative explained that they did not have the authority to to change this for me.

I had a feeling that the conversation would come down to that. I do not necessarily remember the order in which I presented different arguments for my case, but I do recall different segments of the conversation.

I mentioned that I had been diagnosed with cancer a few months prior to the pandemic starting. I talked about how my oncology nurse told me that I had to overcompensate with my safety precautions because there were so many people out there not being careful.

At one point, I noted that cancer is expensive, and I would rather spend my money on cancer treatment than on travel.

At another point, I emphasized that I would have loved nothing more than to have traveled to Austin in May 2020, but it just was not safe. I loved traveling in general, and I did not like that this pandemic was preventing me from doing so this year.

In fact, I wanted the representative to know that not only have I flown with this airline many times, but I also promoted it to people in my social networks—and they take my opinions seriously.

The representative stated more than once that they did not have the ability to give me a refund due to policies.

I said that I understood that, and I too have had jobs where I did not have authority to make certain changes due to policy.

When I kept receiving pushback in my requests for a refund, I expressed the need to talk to the representative and whatever other employees there as a human. Maybe I said “human to human,” or “one human to another.” Whatever. My sentence included the word human, and I expressed the need for a human connection.

I told the representative that if they could not make a change, I would talk to their manager. If their manager could not help me, I would talk to their manager’s manager. If that person would not assist me, I would talk to their manager’s manager’s manager’s manager. I may have gone on longer, but I am pretty sure I mentioned at least going up to their manager’s manager’s manager’s manager.

After I made that statement about going up to their manager’s manager’s manager’s manager, they said they would put me on hold.

While I was on hold, I logged into my account for this airline. I took photo after photo of every flight I have taken since I became an official member with the airline’s reward program since 2012. It reminded me of all the good times I had through this airline, and it also underscored how loyal and how much of my money I have given to this airline. If they were not going to refund my flight, it would be their loss of my money and my support.

When the representative returned to the line with me, they said that they could give me a refund because my original flight had a time change of more than two hours; when a flight time changes by more than two hours, a refund was possible. Therefore, my refund would be granted, but it was more for that policy for the flight time rather than my health concerns.

I asked the representative for their name. They said Amber, and I thanked them for listening to me. I expressed how I had so much to manage these days, and not everyone does a good job of listening.

With that said, I also told Amber that their airline will need to figure out how to handle customers’ health concerns. People cannot travel if they are not healthy.

It was so obvious to me that the airline did not want to say that my refund was due to my health issue; therefore, they looked at my flight to find out if there was another policy they could use as a reason for refunding my flight. In this case, I was lucky to have had my flight time change by more than two hours. If that had not happened, who knows what other reason they would have needed to refund me!

In any case, that was much stress for me. It was not the worst stress, but it was still stress to retell and relive my cancer diagnosis, treatment, and trials for more than the last eight months.

I am not alone in this situation. I am not simply talking about cancer patients and survivors. I am not simply talking about people with major health issues. I am talking about anyone who has ever been in a vulnerable situation or been in a marginalized population.

If you have ever been in a vulnerable situation or if you belong to a marginalized population, you understand firsthand how you often are forced to prove your pain.

Do you want an extension on an academic or work project? Prove that you had extenuating circumstances.

Do you need to call in sick from work? Some employers have some degree of curiosity to know what you mean when you say you are not feeling well.

Are you applying for need-based funding? Recount all of the ways in which your circumstances have been difficult. If you provide “adequate details” according to the standards of the funder, you can receive funding for anything from financial aid for schools to grants for healthcare support.

In fact, I filled out multiple applications and wrote several essays to receive funding months ago. I had to reflect on all of the ways that my situation was challenging so that the funders would award me money. I speak more about this in Networking and Negotiating for Healthcare. I am grateful for the funds I received and understand that they need a process for evaluating applications. I have to admit it was mentally and emotionally draining to write multiple versions of how breast cancer was impacting my life.

Actually, this blog is another example of that idea of having to prove my pain to people. I do not just mean my pain, but the pain of other people in vulnerable situations and from marginalized populations like mine.

Whether I have written about detecting my lump that was breast cancer, challenging antiquated and biased messages in healthcare, or navigating racism in New England, I have shared my experiences knowing that so many others can relate to these circumstances—but typically do not have the energy to share their pain with others in more privileged positions.

We live in a society where so many people depend on books, documentaries, and the mainstream media to give them an expert opinion on public health and social justice issues. There is a time and place to get this information from people with academic and professional experience with these problems; however, there is also something to be said for learning about those same public health and social justice issues from the perspectives of people most impacted by those problems. Recently, I have written about this specifically with the need to center Black perspectives in initiatives to address problems related to anti-Blackness and racism.

What problems are you looking to address and solve? Whose perspectives are you centering when researching solutions?

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