Sunday, April 24, 2011

Taxol, #4 down, three to go

After surviving through the epirubicen chemotherapy that wreaked havoc with my throat and general good health, I was relieved to be done and to move onto Taxol. Taxol's biggest side effect is peripheral nerve damage, which is normally temporary but can be permanent.

After finished one of four Taxols, my nerves are intact. Fingers can still button, feet can still run. No pins and needles, no pains or aches. Despite the lingering cough that seems to have found a permanent resting place in my throat, and is resulting in my large contribution to the Halls corporation (as in lozenges), the negative side effects attributed to Taxol are between nonexistent to minimal. I just might sail through this round.

As for positive side effects, there are a few. Lingering hairs on my arms, legs, inside nose, and pretty much everywhere else, have dropped off. Who needs them anyway? My razor budget has been slashed. Any teeth plaque I had? Gone. Pimples? Gone. So you can see, not all side effects are negative in my book. There are benefits to chemotherapy, and I embrace every last one. When this is done, I might just miss these fringe benefits.

On another subject, we have just been informed that our little girl, turning seven in two months, can read. I don't mean read a simple sentence or write her name, but I mean she can read a book with more words than pictures. She has been so excited about her new skill, that every night she has chosen to read a chapter to US rather than the other way around. Her favorite choice is the Junie B. Jones series. This is a turning point. Reading is power.

My other one, 8-1/2 years old, surprised us with her adventurous spirit this weekend in Montreal, by venturing out of her macaroni and cheese comfort zone, to test her tastebuds with some Lebanese food and some Tibetan food. The Tibetan food was not all that different from Chinese food, which she is accustomed to, but the sauces were more subtle. The waitress took a second look at Emily as she expertly maneuvered her chop sticks to eat the steamed dumplings and noodles. Seems like yesterday she was using the children's chopsticks with the hinges, now she puts me to shame with how adept she is with two sticks.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Life is good

To my one "follower" and tens of readers: please be notified that life is good again in the Gardiner house. My girls had a great time at their grandpa and grandma's house, playing with their new paint kit from Aunt Sedell. They actually wanted to stay an extra night. They came home laughing and chatting away, loaded with pizza. Here is a photo of them, trying on the funky hats that my stepmother's friend knitted for me.

As for me, my throat pain miraculously went away after six weeks. Work is great. I have a lot of challenging cases to handle at work, and accomplished a lot this week so far, which only includes Monday because Tuesday is chemo day. I did something new that I intend to repeat: concentrated on my work instead of paying bills, internet 'research,' checking the latest news and weather, and chatting with my lovely colleagues. I just might try this again. It's a good feeling to be productive for a full eight hours and earn my salary with some honor.

I picked up some Montreal travel guides for our upcoming trip, which was another happy moment of the day.

I signed up for a summer triathlon, a sign of feeling healthy. Ok, so I wasn't that productive at work for the full eight hours. But what's ten minutes of wasted time in the big scheme of things?

Tuesday is chemo day #4 out of 7. I am armed with natural supplements that I need to take in the morning and evening to combat the side effects of Taxol, namely neuropathy, and pat myself on the back for that.

I had to talk to a naturopath (at Sloan Kettering he's called an 'integrative medicine specialist') to get the information. My oncologist doesn't offer any advice about supplements so I'm jumping in this game mid-stream. Sloan Kettering is great for conventional medicine and prescription drugs, but not so strong in recommending natural supplements. I personally like to have feeling in my fingers and toes so researched natural supplements, and gathered advice from the naturopath. So I feel full of information and ready to tackle what this Taxol brings me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Pain in the neck

The subject of this post is "Pain." Actually, more specifically, it is about how you learn to tolerate pain with the more medical procedures you go through. And you survive intact because the pain is short-term. A certain amount of pain is the price to pay for getting the medical condition in the first place. And it's tolerable because you know it's for your own good.

I thought of this subject while I had a long black tube placed in my nose on Friday, and extended into my my throat, where the otolaryngologist was able to snap pictures of the throat ulcer that he found down there.

I was wondering if the nose hose was any worse than the time the inexperienced nurse tried to put an IV in my arm at Vassar Hospital and had to dig in with the needle and twist and move it until she located the vein?

Or was it worse than the time the physician injected the burning, radioactive dye into my breasts - the ones I used to have - so that the surgeon could find the lymph nodes during surgery?

My purpose of this post is not to brag about the pain I have endured like I am some military hero shot on the battlefield while defending my troups. But just to marvel over the amount of pain and discomfort that you learn to endure, especially when you trust that it is meant to treat and cure you, and not being used just to satisfy a physician's sadistic impulse.

You learn to sit still and be good. To think of breathing, in and out, in and out, and wonder if the doctor ever went through it himself. You realize that most medical procedures causing pain are over in less than a minute, and you count the seconds until this one is done. Because you know that if you dare move, the doctor will have to do it all over again. And once is more than enough.

Anyone can grin and bear it for a minute. But while my pain tolerance has improved, it is not limitless. In fact, as I will tell the otolaryngologist on Monday during my throat biopsy, if this pain is to last any longer than a minute, anesthesia better be involved.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Having a goal is the key

The key to surviving chemo with your sanity intact is realizing that there will be life after chemotherapy that does not involve cancer. At least this is true for me, as surgery is already done and I am not aware of any lingering tumors.

Choosing a goal or planning an event for when chemotherapy is done is proof positive that treatment is only temporary.

For me, one event that will sail me through chemo is our planned trip to the Caribbean in July. Visions of relaxing in a hammock in my rain forest villa five minutes from the beach in St Lucia is what will bring me through chemotherapy. This trip will be the reward. While immersed in health concerns, the thought of not having those health concerns within three short months is so wonderful it is almost unfathomable. I am giddy with excitement about this trip. Each infusion will bring me closer to my hammock.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Insurance and the Preexisting Condition

The fear of a loss of insurance coverage is heightened for anyone who develops that "preexisting condition," to use insurance jargon. If you have reliable, generous health insurance, particularly if it's paid for by your employer, you are golden. But lose that job, and that insurance if you can't cover the COBRA payments, and you are left in a sea of panic.

I am fortunately in the former camp and, after nine years on the job, I have job security. In my current position, I am covered and pay no premiums. Optical and dental coverage too. More than that, my two daughters and husband are also covered 100% by my government employer and we pay a minimal monthly amount for them to have optical and dental coverage.

Without that job, I would be up a creek due to the last three months alone. According to my Explanation of Benefit forms that we receive in the mail every day, my insurance carrier (United Healthcare) has already shelled out somewhere around $75,000 since I was diagnosed on December 15, 2010. That includes consultations, biopsy, MRIs, mammograms, PET Scan, then surgery, reconstruction, chemotherapy, biweekly blood work.

But after nine years in one government position, I realize that I will always be contemplating other career opportunities. That's just the way I am. So, with that thought in mind, and cancer on my records, I started researching the whole health insurance issue.

Should I leave my position, I will either have to get hired by a firm or agency that provides family health insurance, or I will work for myself, and need to apply for a new insurance plan. The problem here is that insurers are allowed to, and routinely do, reject applicants due to preexisting conditions.

A reported 57.2 million people younger than 65 have at least 1 preexisting condition that could mean insurance denial. And cancer is one of the biggest preexisting condition that leads to insurance coverage rejections. Also, there are a whole host of other preexisting conditions that also mean a "no thank you" letter from an insurer, from multiple sclerosis, chronic back injuries, to diabetes.

But, you might ask, what about the whole Obama healthcare plan? Didn't that eliminate the right of insurers to reject applicants pre-existing conditions?

Yes and no. Importantly, the restriction goes into effect in 2014. It is not in effect today, tomorrow, next year, or the year after that. And it will not go into effect in 2014 if the health care bill is amended to eliminate that benefit. Further, the insurers will always have the right to increase charges for pre-existing conditions to a point where insurance is absolutely unaffordable to most people.

So Congress has given individual states the optional opportunity to create a plan to bridge the gap between 2011 and 2014, for those who are residents of those States and have preexisting conditions. I looked up New York's plan, since that is where I live, and was pleased to see there is a plan, but shocked to see how unreasonably inadequate the bridge plan is.

To qualify for a bridge plan in the States that have adopted such plans, according to Federal laws, you need to meet four requirements. You must (1) be a legal U.S. resident; (2) be a resident of that state; (3) have a preexisting medical condition - and be able to prove that you were denied insurance coverage because of it by production of a rejection letter; and (4) not have had health care coverage for the last six months. Then you are eligible for a state-sponsored individual plan.

Note that meeting these requirements. only provides individual coverage - that is after you pay the first $5950 per year of benefits, then your coverage kicks in. You still need to purchase extra insurance for spouse and dependants.

Though we are on the right track, this fourth requirement is offensive on so many levels. It could literally result in your death. It means postponing treatment and diagnosis for six months. Anyone with a preexisting condition needs ongoing health care, not a six month break.

I cannot say enough to explain my distress at this requirement, along with the financial requirements. It's not that I need this bridge coverage right now, but someday I might, and there are millions of people who do need coverage and can't get it.

I read the fears of women on the website, who post about their lack or loss of health insurance. What can they do? Who can afford to pay upwards of $75,000 in a three month time span for necessary healthcare when diagnosed with cancer? And most of those who need the bridge coverage are either unemployed or self-employed.

As I said, for now I'm golden. But the possibility of losing that status is real, and it is frightening.