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Even before the diagnosis, it hadn't been a good year.
The Gaslights' second trip to Europe last December didn't go well. Toward the end, personalities conflicted, signaling an impending breakup. Henderson got a bad cold, and a piercing howl of feedback from a monitor on the tour's last gig ruptured her eardrum. After a torturous trans-Atlantic flight, Meck and Henderson got stranded at the Kansas City airport, waiting for a taxicab on Christmas Eve.
"We got back from Europe. It was awful. The band was falling apart, it was cold, I had a terrible show the last show we had, and I was really sick," she says.
"So Christmas happens. It was awful, and then about two weeks later, Chris' guitar got stolen — Chris' '72 fucking Telecaster! — and the day after that, my father died. This all happened in about two and a half weeks."
It was lung cancer that got her father. Her mother, a former actress, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer 15 years ago. A dues-paying union member for 20 years, Henderson's mother got health coverage through both the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild. She's been fighting to maintain good health ever since her diagnosis.
Henderson, still unable to kick her cold and reeling from her father's death, decided to get her own basic insurance. She applied for and got a PPO plan from Humana for $100 a month and with a $5,200 deductible.
"It's basically an if-you-get-hit-by-a-bus policy," she says. "It was a little bit more expensive because I was a smoker, but it was something I could afford. Everything else was just way out of my league."
Paying for her own insurance puts Henderson in a tiny minority of the artistic population.
In this country's pray-you-don't-get-sick health-care system, where more than 47 million Americans have no health insurance, uninsured musicians are in every tavern. They don't go to the doctor unless it's an emergency, in which case they go to the emergency room and hope it's not something expensive.
"My first experience with my brand-new health insurance was a cancer diagnosis. It was so messed up," Henderson says, her last words broken up by a laugh. "But that's what happens, man. I hadn't gone to see a doctor in 15 years. Nobody has — nobody I know has. It's one of those things that's too expensive. It's a luxury.
"You don't think about it," she goes on, "because very rarely do people who are 30 have a confluence of events where everything comes together and [death] puts its teeth in your face.... That sort of come-to-Jesus meeting is saved for when you're 45 and having a midlife crisis."
A rash appeared on Henderson's left breast in April, but she didn't see a doctor until June.
"It just looked like a detergent rash," Henderson remembers. "I didn't think anything of it."
This year's not the first time that Meck and Henderson have been without, or nearly without, health care in a time of need.
While touring in 2006, Meck injured his back while hefting the band's equipment. A chiropractor treated him and told him to lay off the heavy lifting. Along with the other two band members, Henderson pushed to make up for the lost manpower as the band ventured south.
"By the time we got to New Orleans, we'd done a show, and we got back to the hotel, and I had this terrible pain in my stomach," Henderson recalls. "I couldn't breathe and I couldn't sit down.... It had been coming on in the bar, and this woman was like, 'There's a musicians' clinic. You can call them tomorrow, and they'll see you. All you need is a record.' And I was like, 'That's bullshit! There's no such thing as a musicians' clinic.'"