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Visited my oncologist – the fabulous Dr. Shroff – SmileyFace on Friday for a regular office visit and to have my port flushed.  I was left in the examining room for about an hour waiting for my doctor but I do not get impatient as I know sometimes the prescribed 15 minute appointments run long, particularly if she has to deliver bad news.  And Friday, as I would find out later, was a bad news day for lots of her patients but fortunately for me, I was not among them.

I feel pretty good, have a good head of returning hair, and all systems are “go” for now. If anything I am too fat.  I emerged from chemo in March with incredible aches and pains in my bones and joints so each time I worked out at the gym I couldn’t sleep for the next two days because of the pain in my lower extremities.  As a matter of fact, right before my cancer diagnosis last fall I was investigating alternatives to knee replacement surgery.

My right knee was replaced in 2009 and way back then the ortho doc told me my left knee was not far behind.  That knee surgery in 2009 was big and bad and recovery was difficult so I was actually looking at stem cell therapies that might help me avoid surgery when cancer interrupted my research.

Anyway, despite having put on weight in the past 2 months, my fabulous oncologist could not have been more supportive and encouraging.  She didn’t scold for the added weight.  In fact, she said it was great to see me so hale and hearty (or something like that).  I told her I was going to pursue left knee replacement and she gave it her blessing, encouraging me to do whatever I needed to do to feel good and get back to all my regular routines.   Those routines include regular exercise that requires fully functional knees.

After my visit with my fabulous doctor I was ushered into the chemo room so they could do my blood work and flush the port.  The oncology nurses are just so remarkable they deserve a mention here.  Throughout my four-month chemo journey,  they  delivered that toxic cocktail with great skill, cheerful support, and friendly efficiency.  They have to blend accurate nursing skills with the most elegant customer service skills, and do it with warmth and humor all day every day to folks who are at some of the lowest points of their lives.  They watch some recover, and watch others fade, and still maintain that relentless warmth.  I thank them all each time I visit, but also wanted to make it known here as I suspect many of my fellow cancer patients have had similar experiences.  If you are reading this and had a similar experience, feel free to comment.

Provided cancer stays in my rearview mirror, I will move forward with knee replacement sometime before February 28.  That is when my medical year ends so I would like to get it done this year since I have already met deductible and out-of-pocket.

For now, back to the gym I go.  I need to lose weight and build up strength in both legs which is key to quick recovery from surgery.  To that end, I am headed to the kitchen to whip up a HUGE batch of gazpacho: a crispy, cold summer soup with lots of vegetables and not many calories.

Gazpacho

Money2I was diagnosed with breast cancer in early October 2013 and had 11 business days to prepare for double mastectomy. Virtually every other day I was heading somewhere for a test or to fill out paperwork. Not only did I have to take care of so much administrative stuff before surgery, I also had to get my house ready, and I had to make preparations at my job. Needless to say, this was extremely difficult because of the tight time constraints coupled with a diagnosis that scared the begeezus out of me.

One of the many tests my surgeon scheduled for me in the 11 days prior to surgery was a PET scan and an MRI. Perhaps now is a good time to say I am fully insured having a PPO with a major provider via my employer. After surgery on Oct 29 I had to go back for second surgery 3 weeks later for more lymph node removal. Then chemo began Friday the 13th ( I kid you not) of December. 4 months of chemo followed by 33 radiation treatments and I am now trying to return to normal.

About a month after my initial surgery, I received notice from my insurer that my claim for the MRI/PET was being rejected and I should expect to receive a bill from the facility that performed those two diagnostic tests. My insurer let me know I was responsible for payment in full. Shortly after that I got a bill for roughly $8500.00.

So began a frightening journey into insurance hell. I am a smart person but I know virtually nothing about how to fight an insurance company. I felt like a blind person in a cave swinging at lumps of coal. My repeated attempts to resolve were futile. I shared my frustrations with our HR rep at work and he reminded me that our benefits plan included the service of Health Advocate. So I reached out that day and it was one of the best decisions in my life.

First, lucky for me that our HR rep was informed because I certainly was not. Second, I am just so grateful for such a service and happy to know it is another one of my employer-provided benefits.

Working with the Health Advocate rep was simple, timely and straightforward. Communication was always on time and easily understood. I would not have known all the required steps nor the timing of those steps in order to wage a good fight regarding this $8500.00 charge. But my HA rep knew and finally managed to win on our final appeal. I ended up paying $114.00 instead of $8500.00 and this appeal process took about 4+/- months. I would have failed without the assistance of Health Advocate.

I have since recommended the HA services to anyone who will listen. I encourage anyone facing health care issues to investigate HA and utilize them if necessary. I was trying to fight the rejected claim with emotional responses. The Health Advocate is schooled in responding with medical and processional reasoning which certainly has a greater chance for success.

Even fully insured, this cancer battle has been a huge expense that I never saw coming. It would have been so much worse, had I been responsible for that $8500.00 bill.

Thank you new-best-friend Health Advocate! I expect to stay in touch for many years to come.

That’s my story. I hope this is helpful.

Visit to breast surgeon today and I have to have more surgery.  I probably don’t have a good command of the terminology but the cancer had spread to 2 of 4 axillary nodes so I go back under the knife on November 19.

Chemo will begin about 3-4 weeks after that 2nd surgery and radiation will follow chemo.

I hope that I do not have to hear “everything happens for a reason” anytime soon.  Additionally, I hope not to hear, “you are only given what you can handle” because both of those cliches stink.

Shit happens – often without reason – and right now shit is happening to me.

And again, I am afraid.

So I guess this must be the easy part.  The surgery to remove both breasts and a couple of nodes occurred early Tuesday.  I am already showering, changing my own dressings, dumping grenades, and off pain meds.  My situation is slightly different from most because I elected not to have reconstruction.  I’m 56, single and just made the decision to forego adding breasts back into the mix.  So I don’t have spacers or anything else in there, other than drains.  All is well.

Daily nurse visit has been excellent.  She checks my vitals and dressings and drains and teaches me the things I need to know in order to take care of myself.  My sisters and friends have been beyond believable and I am more grateful than I can convey.  

Monday prior to surgery was excruciating but by Tuesday morning I was feeling calm and peaceful and relieved that surgery was the next step. 

Now, I have follow ups and visit with oncologist to determine proper course of action.  Already knew I would be radiated but may need chemo as well.  Maybe this is when the hard part kicks in.

It is my nature to fight.  So cancer, beware.Image

 

 

 

 

 

Double mastectomy is complete and I want to thank everyone who expressed concern and good wishes.  You are appreciated.

 Outpatient surgery took about 2 hours and after a couple hours in recovery I was home around 2pm yesterday.    My sisters are taking great care of me as are a couple of good friends.  I am fortunate to have good people around me that are here when I need them.  I also have good people far away keeping in their thoughts and I am truly touched.

So now I am home, healing from surgery and wondering what the future holds.  I suppose that will be revealed soon enough. Image

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