John Young

Dying for Care

With $112,000 in medical bills, an opera singer battles throat cancer


‘I thought I was going to die’

John Young opened the doors of the Trinity Wall Street church with a document in his hands.

It was a cold, sunny day in March 2010. Young walked into the Lower Manhattan church to attend a rehearsal as a member of its choir. He was one week away from opening night of his first major opera production with the Regina Opera Company in the Dykers Heights section of Brooklyn.

Young had recently landed a pair of notable opera roles, including a large part in the Italian opera Don Pasquale at the Regina Opera. He had been rehearsing for six weeks for the position he had worked toward for years.

Inside the church minutes before practice started with the Trinity choir, Young sat down alone.

Young's ear, nose and throat doctor had just given him the official results of the scan. Young needed the report and images handy to give to a radiologist for an upcoming MRI. Once testing was complete, Young's doctor was supposed to go over all the results.

But Young didn't want to wait.

He pulled out the report. Young read through his doctor's interpretation of the images. He grew increasingly tense.

The results showed that Young had a tumor nearly the size of a golf ball in the uppermost point of his throat behind his nose. It was blocking his hearing from his right ear. His mouth was continuously numb. The pressure of the tumor was crushing against his brain.

“I felt like all the blood had left my body,” Young said.

The tumor was growing quickly, so doctors would have to move fast.

Young tried to absorb the idea that he had stage 3 nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare type of throat cancer.

“I lost it,” he said. “I kept thinking, 'What am I going to go through? What treatments will I have to do?'”

That's when it hit Young that he would have to grapple with another concept: He didn't have health insurance.

“That was the spike through the heart,” said Young, who was 40 years old at the time. “How am I going to try to fight this?”

And because Young lived paycheck-to-paycheck from various singing roles, he had little in savings.

“I panicked,” he said. “I thought I was going to die.”

Part 2: The Changes »

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