Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 6: Free Health Insurance and a “Job Listing”

Here are my two cents on why I would love to see free healthcare for everyone in this country. I get frustrated when I hear politicians say things like, we’re going to make it so that people can buy insurance plans with what they need on it and they won’t have to have plans that include things that they don’t need. Now initially that sounds great! Who wants to pay for things you don’t need, sign me up! But here’s where I have an issue with that. Unless they’re handing out crystal balls with every insurance plan, how do you know what you’re going to need next month, next year or even tomorrow? The point of insurance is to cover you for when UNEXPECTED things happen.

I’m a good example of this because when I was diagnosed back in 2009, my husband and I had a plan that we could afford, which we later found out was a terrible plan. (A little background, we’re both self-employed which was why we were looking for insurance plans on our own. Prior to that we had both worked for companies and had gotten our health insurance through them. If you’ve always had health insurance through a company and have never had to deal with getting it on your own, you don’t know how lucky you are. You should send flowers to your Human Resources person for what they probably go through.) So, we didn’t know the insurance plan we bought on our own was a terrible plan when we initially signed up for it. We simply found one we could afford and incorrectly assumed that it would cover anything that may come up. We didn’t know that we should have asked what diseases/treatments may or may not be covered under our plan. We had both always been very healthy and were healthy at the time we signed up for it. In the past we had never had to ask about what illnesses would be covered and didn’t know that we had to. And then when I was diagnosed, we found out that we were “underinsured” and not covered for the chemotherapy that I would need for my very treatable cancer.

Unfortunately my story isn’t unique. This happens to people every day and I don’t want to see it happen to anyone anymore. I understand that some people think free healthcare is a radical idea, but we have to think outside of the box in order to make any worthwhile change. A true healthcare system is one where anyone can go to the doctor whenever they need to, for whatever comes up in their lives. It also makes sense to offer free healthcare because then people could go for their well check-ups and hopefully catch something early if a health situation arises. When people don’t go to the doctor for well check-ups and only go when they’re sick that’s more expensive for everyone.

We have enough smart people in America, and if we truly believe that we’re the greatest country in the world, then we should believe that we can do this. If we doubt that we can do this, then we’re lying when we say we think we’re the greatest. When people talk about other countries that already have free healthcare and problems that they see with it, we can learn from those countries, take what works and improve on the other things that we don’t like.

It’s very frustrating when I hear stories about how some people don’t go to the doctor because they can’t afford the co-pays, but I know it’s not their fault. Because even if they can afford the co-pays and they find out something may be wrong, they can’t afford their prescriptions or their treatment and that should never happen. Health insurance is a right, it’s not a privilege. If we’re really a country that cares about our fellow citizens then we need to fight for each other and demand the best free healthcare. Otherwise let’s stop pretending that we care about each other and call health insurance what it really is, “the business of taking money and pretending that we care.” How fair is it to pay into something that may not even cover you if you get sick? I don’t know anyone who enjoys wasting their money like that. If your health insurance doesn’t cover you no matter what may happen, then what’s the point of having it? Hoping and praying that you never get anything worse than a cold? Now that’s a nice fairy tale.


Here’s a fake “job listing” that I made up, looking for insurance company CEO’s. Disclaimer (yes the need to explain myself runs deep as I don’t want to offend people who don’t deserve it): The insurance companies had this one coming. Please note that this is not about insurance brokers or anyone who works for an insurance company who are just trying to do their jobs (unless you’re the CEO or whoever makes the rules). I had a great insurance broker at one time who is smart and caring. This is directed towards “the man” aka the top executives of these companies, the ones who make all of the crappy rules like “preexisting condition” clauses and other wonderful things like that which make it difficult and sometimes impossible for people to get healthcare in our country.

I wrote this after much stress and aggravation given to me by various insurance companies. For example, getting four preexisting condition letters in a four week time span, which meant I had to fill out the exact same form, with the exact same information, four times in a row and hope that the “powers that be” would approve the doctor visits I already had, even though I had already waited the amount of time told to me by the insurance company in order NOT to have to deal with the preexisting condition clause, things like that. If you’ve ever had any issues with an insurance company, I hope you enjoy this!

“Calling All Entrepreneurs”

 I’m about to present an amazing business opportunity that you won’t want to miss!

Here’s a riddle: What kind of business can you run where you can charge people for your services or product, take their money and then decide later on whether or not you actually want to give them the service or product that they already paid for. And here’s the kicker, if you don’t want to provide the service or product you don’t have to give them their money back!

What kind of business can you run where you basically decide if someone lives or dies based on whether or not you provide your service? Sounds like organized crime you say? Oh no it’s much worse than organized crime, it’s the health insurance industry in America! Because it presents itself as wanting to protect your health but really all it wants to protect is it’s bottom line. Hmm, come to think of it, it’s one of the biggest organized crime rings in America!

Found a lump that you want to get checked out but can’t even afford the co-pay, go ahead and ignore it because we’d tell you that we don’t cover the chemotherapy anyway for the very treatable cancer that you just found. Better keep sending us your money though because if we have to drop you and you’re under the age of nineteen, good luck ducking that preexisting condition clause with your new insurance company. No matter how you slice it, you’re screwed.

We’re looking for fat cat CEO’s in the making who want to make all of the rules and want to take hard working people’s money. Compassionate people need not apply. We really don’t care about people’s health, we really care about how big our wallets are. We’re looking for go-getters who have no regard for other people’s health and well-being because bottom line, other people’s health and well-being aren’t good for our bottom line.

Are you sadistic? It’s ok, you can admit it! It’s fun to make sick people squirm and what better way is there to make them squirm than to deny them their health insurance? Is there a black hole where your heart is supposed to be? Are you lacking empathy, sympathy and compassion, then you’d be a perfect CEO for the insurance industry! Don’t delay, call us now!

– Jenn G.D.

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For help with financial/emotional issues, contact Leukemia & Lymphoma Society






Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 2: How I Found “It”

Here’s my story. It was a dark and stormy night…(just kidding). In December of 2008, shortly after my thirty-seventh birthday, I was shaving in the shower and I noticed that my right underarm looked swollen. About a week before I had noticed some swollen glands in my neck that seemed to be coming and going. It was winter time so I chalked it up to my body fighting off a cold or a virus. I mean the typical response to swollen glands isn’t, “oh crap, I might have cancer.” Post cancer, swollen glands are a different story, but more on my newfound hypochondria later on. When you haven’t had cancer you think, oh, it’s probably just a cold. The underarm swelling though, well, that raised an alarm in my head that I wasn’t as willing to brush off. I got out of the shower and compared my underarms. The right one definitely looked swollen to me but I didn’t want to freak out and jump to conclusions. Ok to be really honest I was slightly freaked out, but being a relatively rational, Type A personality (yes, I realize the irony in that statement) and being a person who likes to see the glass as half full, I did my best to remain calm and try to think rationally about what it could be.

I thought maybe since I get itchy after shaving, perhaps I had scratched my underarm too hard one day? Maybe I scratched one too many times and that was the cause of the swelling? Maybe I had an ingrown hair? These were logical questions, but in the back of my mind there was this nagging thought of how you hear about lymph nodes with cancer. Even though I wasn’t an expert on the exact location of lymph nodes in the human body, I knew that there were some in my armpits. I felt around my right axilla (armpit to us lay people, but doesn’t axilla sound so much classier than armpit?) and I could feel the slightest little lump but it was there.  I waited about a week and a half, not wanting to seem like a hypochondriac, hoping that the swelling would go down, but there was also that part of me that wanted to run to the doctor screaming “I think I might have cancer!”

As I came to the end of that week and a half I was now obsessed with my armpits. I compared them in the bathroom mirror incessantly and felt for the lump every day. On the flip side I was trying really hard to leave it alone thinking I could possibly be making it worse by poking at it every day. “Maybe it’s nothing, leave it alone!” I would try to tell myself before forcing myself to walk away from the mirror.

I asked both my mother and my husband on separate occasions if they thought my armpits looked different. They did. I could see the swelling wasn’t going down.  I took a deep breath and made an appointment with my doctor. It’s important for me to mention that I wasn’t feeling particularly sick at this time. Sure I was very tired, but my children were seven and three, and my son had never been a good sleeper from the moment he came out of the womb. The fatigue I was feeling wasn’t new for me and wasn’t much different than most other parents with young children; we’re all exhausted. The only other symptom I had was that I was itchy which I would later learn is a symptom of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Are you suddenly itchy now?  Don’t freak out. Strange how the moment anybody mentions itching, we start scratching, isn’t it?) I’m still itchy all of these years post-treatment and cancer-free, so who knows?

In retrospect, I’m thankful for the lumps and bumps that started showing themselves because who knows how long I would have gone undiagnosed had they not appeared since I wasn’t feeling much different than normal. I want to take a moment here to stress the fact that I didn’t wait long at all to see the doctor after I found the lump in my armpit and it was already stage two. Pay attention to your body. Don’t wait to go to the doctor if you think something might be wrong: go with your gut and get it checked out. I’m not going to get political here but if you’re lucky enough to have insurance, because plenty of people aren’t and no one should die from something treatable, thank your lucky stars and go to the doctor. I have my own nightmare story about being underinsured in another chapter. That was fun…not.

When I saw my primary care doctor in her office, she and I could barely feel the offending lump at the time. Thankfully she sent me for more testing to rule out the possibilities. She referred me to an oncologist and my appointment with her was scheduled for a week later. By then the lump in question was much bigger, and seemed to be screaming “Here I am! Bet you can feel me now!” The doctor questioned me about possibly being scratched by an animal. Who knew Cat Scratch Fever (also called Cat Scratch Disease) was actually real? Score one for you if you did. If you’re like me and you didn’t, you learned something new already! I explained that the only animals in the house were my children, (whom I love and adore), and that nope, they hadn’t scratched me. I hadn’t been around any other animals lately either.

The oncologist then referred me to a surgeon so they could biopsy my new unwanted friend, the lump. I had my biopsy done and the surgeon called me about a week later, confirming everything that I had Googled and was afraid of. Here’s what that sounded like:

Me: Hello?

Surgeon: Hi, can I speak to Jennifer Donohue please? (Sometimes I leave out my maiden name so as not to confuse people more than I have to. You’d be amazed at the confusion that a simple little hyphen can cause,…but I digress).

Me: This is she.

Surgeon: Hi Mrs. Donohue. (Uncomfortable pause) We got the results back and I didn’t want to make you wait until you saw the oncologist to hear them. (Yet another uncomfortable pause) You have something called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Me: Ok. That’s cancer right? (Who was I kidding by asking? I totally knew it was cancer she was talking about. I had Googled and Yahoo’ed the internet like crazy looking up everything I could about lymphoma, because the surgeon had mentioned that my oncologist was probably looking for some type of lymphoma. I just needed to hear her say the word CANCER).

Surgeon: Yes, it’s cancer but it’s very treatable. There’s a very high cure rate with the Hodgkin’s.

Me: Ok, well that’s at least some good news…thank you very much for calling me back so soon. (Third uncomfortable pause. I can’t imagine that this call is easy for the doctors to make. The surgeon had been so nice to me throughout the biopsy and everything.  I wanted to console her and say “It’s ok, I’m going to be fine, cancer knocked on the wrong door” but I didn’t really know what to say in this situation either, so all I could muster was a thank you).

Surgeon: You’re welcome. Good luck with everything.

Me: Thank you very much, doctor.

I let out a big sigh and dialed the phone to call my husband. Here’s what that sounded like:

Me: Hi, hon.

Dan: Hey babe, what’s up?

Me: I just heard back from the surgeon. They got the test results already. It’s definitely cancer. It’s the one we thought it might be, the Hodgkin’s, not the Non-Hodgkin’s. The good news is it’s very treatable. I have the good cancer (sarcasm intended, this was an unfortunate term that I would hear over and over again from well meaning people. I know what they meant, I had a good prognosis, but the terms “good” and “cancer” should never be used together. There is no such thing as a good cancer.)

Dan: Isn’t Non-Hodgkin’s better? That makes sense by the name.

Me: I know it’s confusing but the Non-Hodgkin’s isn’t as treatable. It’s the Hodgkin’s.

Dan: So it’s not the Non.

Me: Not the Non.

Dan: It’s the Hodgkin’s.

Me: Yes, the Hodgkin’s. I’m sorry to ruin your day but I just couldn’t wait all day until you got home to tell you.

Dan: Don’t apologize. Damn, this is crazy.

Me: Tell me about it. All right, I’ll let you go. I have a few more phone calls to make and a few more people’s days to ruin.

Dan: Ok hon, I love you.

Me: I love you too, babe. See you later.

Thus began my cancer journey and being diagnosed with Stage 2 Mixed Cellularity Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (try saying that five times fast) or Hodgkin’s Disease as it’s sometimes called. It’s a blood cancer, and fortunately for me, one of the most treatable forms of cancer.

– Jenn G.D.