The Cost of Cancer

bag of money

It’s been almost 5 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and pretty much everything has healed – everything except my wallet.  Cancer isn’t just devastating physically and emotionally, but it can be financially as well.  I was fortunate to have health insurance and short term disability benefits through my job, but amazingly, I’m still paying off some bills from years ago.  I can still picture the piles of statements in my living room from doctors, hospitals and insurance companies.  I felt like I was drowning in a sea of debt.  I was worried about my health, about my family, about my future, and about how I was going to pay for it all. One day, I actually burst into tears when I was told I qualified for a $100 gas card to help with the cost of driving to and from treatment.  Everything eventually worked itself out and I’ve learned not to get totally freaked out about medical expenses now.  They are a fact of life – my life, especially – and there are people and organizations out there that can help, but you (or someone advocating on your behalf) need to devote a good amount of time to research.  Talk to your doctors about patient assistance programs, talk to the hospital about payment plans, look online for local and national organizations that assist with financial resources for cancer patients, become intimately familiar with your insurance plan and benefits and make informed choices regarding your treatment. In my resource section, I have listed some organizations that I’ve had some experience with and may be able to help you or your loved ones(s).  There’s also a great website called Cancer.net that explores issues and questions regarding the costs associated with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, please visit that page at http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/financial-considerations/understanding-costs-related-cancer-care.

So, let me strongly encourage you to ask for help, accept help, and pass it along by helping others when you have the chance.  It is not a sign of weakness to ask for assistance, especially when you’re fighting for your life or the life of a loved one.  Be well and be informed – help might be just waiting and hoping that you ask for it.

 

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4 Years and Counting….

4 years and countingI recently had my 6 month follow up with my Oncologist, Dr. Elizabeth Tan-Chiu (whom I, along with many others, believe is a genius and real-life Wonder Woman). We were reviewing my chart and were very excited to see that I’m approaching my 5 year anniversary this October.  For those of you who know – and those of you who don’t – 5 years is kind of a big deal when it comes to survivorship.  I’ll be finished with my Zometa infusions, only need to see Dr.T once a year, and, hopefully, be able to stop taking my estrogen blocker, Arimidex. Some ladies have to take it for 10 years – I’m hoping I’m not in that category.  My wonder-woman doctor then told me something interesting – there is a new test called the Breast Cancer Index (BCI) which can help determine how long it will be beneficial for me to take Arimidex. It’s a test performed on the tissue saved from my tumors that were removed and archived – which is another interesting thing I learned – it is mandatory that tissue is saved for 10 years (which was a relief to hear – I thought they had to poke me some more to get breast tissue to test). So, my doc ordered the BCI and it should take a couple weeks to get the results. I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, to find out more about the Breast Cancer Index, visit www.answersbeyond5.com.

The Write Stuff : 30 in 30

Writing has done many things for me – it helped me cope with a difficult childhood illness, helped me earn my degrees, helped me put on paper the feelings I could not speak out loud, and it helped get me through cancer treatment.  It helps me now deal with Systemic Lupus and the prospect of my cancer returning.  It gives me, and hopefully those who read my musings, hope for the future and a way to make some sense out of the senseless things that happen.  There was a time when I guarded my writing like an overprotective parent, for fear that people would see the “real me” and run away in horror.  But, when I finally did take the risk of showing my work to others, they didn’t run – it actually brought us closer.  Little by little, I shared more of my writings with others and secretly dreamed of being a “Writer” with a capital W.  But, it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with and survived breast cancer that I was comfortable sharing my most personal insights with perfect strangers. I kept a notebook during and after treatment; writing about my thoughts and fears, as well as the surprisingly funny and good times, helped me deal with a terrifying situation.  So, I decided to share my writing with a larger audience, and started this blog.  My intentions were to have an outlet for my feelings/experiences and, hopefully, provide comfort, humor, and support to others.

Now, I’m taking another step on my writing journey and working towards becoming a Certified Journal Facilitator.  My long-term goal is to be able to teach others how to use writing as a means of expression and healing.  My short-term goal is to become more disciplined about my writing and incorporate it into my daily routine.  So, I’ve decided that I will challenge myself to write and post something every day for the next 30 days.  I would like to invite others reading this to suggest topics for me to write about, as well.  Let’s see if I’ve got the “write stuff” – wish me luck!

P.S.  I’m counting this post as #1 – only 29 more to go!

Happy NOW Year

I wish I could take credit for my catchy title, but truthfully, I stole – er, I mean, borrowed it from a Facebook post.  It instantly struck a chord with me.  Living in the now is something I strive to do, but find  difficult for various reasons.  I struggle with focusing too much on the past or looking too far in the future in terms of my health (being that I’m a cancer survivor and someone also living with active Lupus).  I recall attending a support group at Gilda’s Club when I was going through chemo and the topic came up about  ways to cope with fears and anxiety.  The group leader talked about how important it is to focus on the present as a way to diffuse panic and worry associated with cancer or any other of life’s challenges.  She had us do an exercise where we closed our eyes and focused in on our environment.  We had to describe the temperature of the room, the texture of our chairs, etc.  It helped to ground us and get our minds off of scary things in the past and possible scarier things in the future. We just had to focus on right then, nothing else. When I returned to work after a 6 month absence, I immediately taped up a handwritten note that reads “Be Here Now” next to my computer.  It’s still there two and a half years later.

One of my goals for 2015 is to make the most out of the “now.”  I want to do as much as I can with the second chance I’ve been given and not get stuck in the past or ruin the present with future fears.  But I don’t want to get complacent either and forget my experience with having cancer, because I need to do all that I can every day to reduce my risk of recurrence.  I also have to work hard to live as healthy and happily as I can with Lupus, which is also a daily struggle.  It’s scary to know that I have something that other people have died from (Lupus), but empowering to know that I also survived something that other people have not (breast cancer).  So, I will continue to work on finding a balance between remembering the past, but not getting stuck in it, looking forward to the future without fearing it, and making the most of the present.  Happy NOW year, everyone!

Pink Butterflies

Happy 2015 to all!  I started this year with my 6 month visit to my Oncologist yesterday. I love Dr. Tan-Chiu, but I always have mixed feelings when I go there.  Even the smell of the medical building where her office is located can bring back a flood of memories from my early diagnosis and days of chemo.  I feel a twinge of fear, a rush of gratefulness, a sense of disbelief (still!)that I even had breast cancer, and all sorts of other bittersweet feelings and memories.  When I walked in, I saw my surgeon, who was there seeing other ladies prior to their surgery.  The women were in the waiting room, sitting nervously with their mammogram films in the big x-ray folders on their laps.  Some alone, some with their significant others, all about to undergo a life-altering experience.  I felt some butterflies as I thought, “that could be me again…”  I think of the other women that I’ve met there and especially the ones I spent hours with in the chemo room.  Some of them I run into during my visits, and others I never see again.  I like to think that I never see them anymore because they are healthy and cancer-free and try not to think of the alternative.  It’s a bit surreal when I look at my surgeon and think, “that’s the guy who chopped off my breast” – then, I look at my Oncologist and think, “that’s the woman who saved my life.”  Pretty heavy stuff.  I’m a 3 year survivor now, and the fear is always in the back of my mind that I’ll have a recurrence.  For some reason, I was really nervous about it yesterday, but only when I got into the waiting room.  Now, I just have to wait for the bloodwork to come back and hope I get the phone call saying my tumor markers are fine and all is well. Until then, my butterflies and I will try our best to stay positive and stay healthy, one day at a time.

Positively negative

Positively negative

Well, I am happy to report that my mammogram and ultrasound came back negative! I’ve never felt so positive about being negative 🙂

Image

This may squeeze a little…..

Well, it is that time of the year for me again – the annual mammogram and ultrasound.  Luckily, I only have one good “ta ta” to test, so it’s not very time consuming.  But, time isn’t the issue. The issue is the little pang of terror that I get when I’m letting complete strangers do a very thorough check of my most private lady parts (what I have left, that is) and I try to forget about the times when the results came back disastrous.  I pray when I’m putting on the flimsy, pink gown  – with the opening in the front – that all will be well and that I’m Cancer free for another day.  I pray when they’re squeezing me and pulling my body this way and that to fit into the mammogram machine that it will be over soon. I pray when I’m laying on the table having an ultrasound and try to forget that I’m half naked in front of a total stranger.  And while I’m at it, I pray for all the other men, women and children, who are also hoping and praying that their tests come back clear.  I’ll keep you posted on the results and ask you humbly that if you pray, you’ll say a little prayer for me today. 

Be well and be blessed.

WordCamp Tampa 2016

September 10-11, 2016

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