Cross, who lives in Benton, is one wife and mother who says she understands, especially as a nurse, that more than affordable health care is needed to make a family or a country whole. The professional caregiver said throughout her family’s trials, it has been her faith in God that has pulled her through and kept her going.
Although she has worked as a registered nurse for some 27 years in Bradley and Hamilton County, the mother of four said her family’s health condition was devastating to her as she learned about a series of serious conditions her family would have to contend with for the rest of their lives.
It started with her husband, Bobby Cross Jr., a Hamilton County school teacher who was diagnosed with a neurological disorder characterized by progressive weakness and impaired sensory function in the arms and legs, called chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy or CIDP.
“Bobby has been sick now for 14 years,” Cross said. “He was diagnosed with several things. One was CIDP. Then two years ago they diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis.”
Cross said Bobby, a Lee University graduate, had to retire after teaching for almost 20 years.
“We struggled for about three years without his income,” she said. “Our church helped us. They were wonderful. But in 2000, we had to file for bankruptcy. We couldn’t do it anymore. We had to sell our home.
“I was frightened. I worried about how we were going to raise our children, especially after learning I was going to have a fourth one. I’m sure everyone thinks, ‘Lord, why me? I’ve gone to school all these years and got my education, but do I have anything to show for it?’ You can lose it all just like that!”
Cross said, “I fell down on my face and cried out to Him: ‘Lord, how are we going to survive? We don’t have any money coming in except my income. We’re going to have another baby, my husband is sick and can’t work, plus we have three other children.”
Despite a tubal ligation two years earlier, Cross had become pregnant in 1999. But now there was another concern.
“I was on medication that advises you not to get pregnant while you’re on it because it could cause very serious birth defects,” Cross explained. “They even have you sign a release stating if you do get pregnant you won’t hold them responsible.
“Well, when I found out I was pregnant I called the doctor and several physicians advised me to have an abortion. I said, ‘No. God gave me this baby and whatever condition he comes in I’ll take care of him.’”
The couple named their newest addition Matthew, meaning “Gift of God.” Cross said he “is beautiful and perfectly normal.”
After a bicycling accident injured one of their sons, causing traumatic inflammation of the pancreas that returned three months later — the pediatrician ordered further testing.
“I’ll never forget that day,” Cross said, wiping away tears. “The doctor told me Joseph had Cystic Fibrosis. I was just numb. I don’t know how else to put it. Five years later — after 12 hospitalizations and two surgeries — they got us to a specialist, Dr. Joel Ledbetter at T.C. Thompson Hospital. He wanted to test the whole family.”
The results showed three of her four sons had cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease with no cure. Only Matthew, who also has the gene, showed no symptoms of the disease.
“Our three older sons are on pancreatic enzymes,” Cross said. “We spend about a third of our combined income on medical expenses. Even with insurance, my copay is $375 for only four meds for my sons. When we apply for assistance they always say we make too much money.”
But money does not travel far in a household loaded down with medical expenses and one income, according to Cross, whose husband’s bout with multiple sclerosis is not getting any better.
“They caught it early and put him on good medication,” she said. “It’s expensive but thank goodness for insurance. Every year he gets a little worse. He also has narcolepsy, so he can’t stay awake. He’s on a lot of medication. He takes 43 pills a day.”
In spite of her husband’s monthly disability check, Cross admits, “Since all of this started it’s devastated us financially. But I want people to know that God is good, He’s with you everyday and He’ll get you through the storms in your life.”
According to Cross, who used coupons and rolled pennies to make ends meet, the reason she was able to cope with such difficult financial and medical conditions was because she kept turning to God in prayer, reading her Bible and leaning on her family and church for support.
“Thank the good Lord I had a mother and grandmother who loved the Lord dearly. They raised us that way. I knew He would get us through,” she said. “God has always provided for us. I’ve never had that peace that surpasses understanding until I matured as a Christian.”
Although she works in healthcare and has good insurance, Cross is among millions of middle class families whose insurance coverage is not enough to cover all of their medical expenses and prevent a financial disaster.
“I’ve grown so much from this experience,” Cross confessed. “It’s during the storms in our life that we do grow. I thank God for everything I’ve been through. I wouldn’t want my dad to be sick or my husband or my sons. But I wouldn’t take anything for where I’m at in my relationship with Christ. I’m thankful for that.”
Married for 30 years, the Benton couple encouraged families to be aware of their family history and get tested if they suspect a medical problem.
“More than anything, I wish everyone would turn to God when hard times come,” Cross said. “In spite of everything I still had my family. We were all under one roof. I wish everyone knew there is someone who cares and He’s looking out for us even to the end.”
For further information about cystic fibrosis, visit www.cff.org.