Kamala Harris wrote a touching tribute to her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, and said she was grateful her mother was on Medicare when she was diagnosed with cancer.
Gopalan died at age 70 in 2009. Harris, who was raised by her mom after her parents divorced, often speaks about the ways her mother’s influence led her to strive for greatness. Harris wrote an opinion piece published in The New York Times December 29, 2018, called, “Everyone Gets Sick. And We Deserve Better.” In it, Harris described her mother’s cancer diagnosis, caring for her in her last days, and defended the Affordable Care Act. At the time, a federal district judge in Texas had recently ruled the Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional. Harris wrote in the piece she was one of the first senators to sign onto the Medicare for All bill introduced in 2017. Harris will be sworn in as vice president at noon January 20, 2021.
“There is no title or honor on earth I’ll treasure more than to say I am Shyamala Gopalan Harris’s daughter,” Harris wrote. “As I continue the battle for a better health care system, I do so in her name.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Harris Cared for Her Mother in Her Last Days of Cancer Treatment, Cooking Meals That Reminded Them of Her Childhood
Harris shared openly about her mother’s cancer battle in her 2018 opinion piece, beginning with the moment Gopalan told Harris and her sister, Maya, that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer.
“She got sick before the Affordable Care Act became law, back when it was still legal for health insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions,” Harris wrote. “I remember thanking God she had Medicare.”
As the disease progressed, Harris said she wanted to hire a home health care aide for her mom, but her mother resisted. Harris understood her mom’s reasons for resistance, and offered as much help as she could so her mom could keep her dignity, she wrote.
“So, we muddled through. I cooked elaborate meals for her, filling the house with the smells of childhood, which reminded us both of happier times,” Harris wrote. “When I wasn’t at the office, I was most often with her, telling stories, holding hands, helping her through the misery of chemotherapy. I brought her hats after she lost her hair, and soft clothes to make her as comfortable as I could.”
Maya Harris shared a photo of herself and her sister as children, walking with their mom, on Twitter in the hours leading up to the Vice Presidential debate.
“My shero: Shyamala Gopalan,” Maya Harris wrote. “#SheRose and made it possible for @KamalaHarris to run. #AAPISheRose”.
Gopalan Was a World-Renowned Cancer Researcher & Civil Rights Activist
Dr. Shyamala Gopalan Harris was known throughout the world for her advancements in breast cancer research. She was born and raised in southern India, the daughter of a diplomat in the Indian government. She earned her undergraduate degree from Delhi University at age 19, and then left for UC Berkeley to study abroad, eventually earning her Ph.D. in nutrition and endocrinology at age 25, according to her obituary.
She joined the Civil Rights movement at UC Berkeley and went onto instill values of racial equality, justice and tolerance to her daughters, the obituary said.
“Despite her 5-ft stature, hers was a commanding presence characterized by a sharp wit, keen sense of humor and endless depth of knowledge,” her obituary said. “She embodied an independent, confident and curious spirit that led her to travel alone to the U.S. as a teen; forge a career as a brilliant breast cancer researcher; join the Civil Rights Movement; introduce a generation of students of color to careers in science; and, through it all, raise two remarkable young women, by herself.”
Harris wrote an ode to her mother in her autobiography, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.” In her tribute, Harris called her mother “the reason for everything.”