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.

Follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/JennGDonohue

For help with financial/emotional issues, contact Leukemia & Lymphoma Society http://www.lls.org/

 

 

 

 

Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 5: Cancer Pricks and Perks (Warning Extreme Sarcasm Up Ahead)

The next few blog posts are going to be about health insurance. It’s a hot topic right now and I felt a good time to share my experience. Here we go…

During treatment I experienced what I call cancer “pricks” and “perks”. I chose to see the silver lining while going through cancer treatment. It was either that or crawl under my covers in the fetal position which was certainly appealing some days, but mostly I chose the silver lining. I experienced perks in the form of people in general being nicer and going out of their way to be nice. I experienced pricks in the literal form of so many needles for blood work and treatment.

There were also pricks in the form of people, like the oncologist that I did not go back to who was impatient when my family asked her questions. But the biggest prick of all, the king of all pricks…drumroll please…the Insurance Companies! Insurance companies, you had this coming. It shouldn’t take a bill in congress to make you cover people for preexisting conditions, least of all children (I wrote a lot of this back in 2009 before people were covered for preexisting conditions. Sad that we’re currently in a position where it could go back to that).

People should be covered for preexisting conditions just because we’re all human and no one’s life is more precious than another’s. Prove me wrong & become an industry that’s about people, that you’re an industry actually about health CARE, and not your bottom line, because right now that’s pretty much what you’re all about. I’m sure you’ll still find a way to make money but it shouldn’t be at the expense of people’s lives.

I have a lot more to say on this subject in the blogs to come, but for now let’s start with some (sarcastic) comic relief. What you’re about to read is something I wrote shortly after finding out that I was “under” insured. Bottom line, my insurance company at the time didn’t cover chemotherapy.

INSURANCE REP:  Good morning, “Rip-Off Insurance”, you claim it we’ll deny it, how can I help you?

JENN:  Hi, I was just diagnosed with cancer and I need to schedule some tests. Can you tell me if they’re covered?

INSURANCE REP:  I’d be happy to help you. What tests do you need?

JENN:  I’ll be going for chemotherapy soon so I need to schedule a heart scan, a lung function test and a Pet/CT scan.

INSURANCE REP:  Well we cover most of the testing that you described but not all of it, oh and by the way, we don’t cover chemotherapy.

JENN:  So what you’re telling me is that the insurance that my husband and I work hard to pay for doesn’t cover the chemotherapy for my very treatable cancer?

INSURANCE REP:  Yessiree bob! (Ok, to be fair she didn’t say that. She was apologetic about it but I think I’m allowed a little creative license here.)

We end the phone call and at this point despair begins to set in. At this point I still don’t know what stage the cancer is at. I need the PET/CT scan (which can cost thousands) to tell me that and a bone marrow biopsy, yet another test to fully diagnose where the cancer is in my body. I need the heart and lung function test so that during and after chemo they’ll be able to tell if the chemo has damaged my heart or lungs and now I have no idea how I’m going to pay for it. The emotions you’re dealing with are so strong. You know it’s not the person’s fault that you’re speaking to but you just want to yell at the people denying you and say “I have cancer! I have two small children that I want to live for! I need these tests to be able to move forward and to find out exactly what my treatment is going to be! Cancer doesn’t wait for you to approve me, cancer spreads, sign me up for the Goddamn tests!”

 

 

 

 

Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 4: Here’s Your Cancer Medal, Ma’am.

Here’s a newsflash, they don’t give you a medal for going through childbirth without any drugs and they don’t give you a medal when you finish chemo, or any type of cancer treatment. (I didn’t have to go through radiation or surgery but from what I hear you don’t get medals for that either!) Can you believe that? It doesn’t seem right does it? There are no medals for “being brave.” What does that mean anyway? When you’re literally faced with dying (or some other equally as frightening diagnosis), you’re allowed to be scared a little shitless, it’s OKAY. If you’re currently going through cancer treatment or you know someone who is, here’s one of the best pieces of advice that I can give. Take your anti-nausea medications!

I used to be one of those people who would always say “I don’t like to take medicine” and now I realize how dumb that sounds because honestly, who does like to take medicine? Oh yeah, everyone’s lining up to say I don’t want to be healthy, so give me lots of different medications that will give me lots of different side effects. Then I’ll have to take other medications in order to combat the side effects of the medications that are supposed to be helping me! When I went through treatment one of the nurses told me that in addition to having more anti-nausea drugs than they did even five to ten years ago, they also work so much better than they used to. Thank you research and technology!

But there are still people who don’t want to take them and I can understand that…to an extent. You feel like your body already has so much crap running through it that you don’t want to add anymore crap to the mix. But if the medication or medications you have to take have the potential to make you sick, then why not take something that can help combat that feeling? Cancer treatment is bad enough without having to feel worse than you already do. Hell, if the anti-nausea medications I had didn’t work as well as they did, I would have been puffing up a storm. You know what I mean.

All joking aside, I don’t understand how medical marijuana isn’t legal everywhere. It’s no worse than any of the other prescription drugs that we take. And let’s talk about alcohol, it’s a dangerous drug that’s LEGAL and the commercials make it seem like if you’re not drinking you’re a loser. AND unlike most alcohol (I know red wine can be good for your heart), marijuana actually has medicinal purposes! If you don’t know much about it, read up on it and see just how many conditions and diseases medicinal marijuana can help.

I’m not condoning drug use, I just get really frustrated when I hear about people who aren’t able to find symptom relief from traditional medications but they’re not allowed to try medicinal marijuana because it’s illegal. Here’s another cliché, but once again, it’s true, you don’t realize how lucky you are to be healthy until you’re so sick that you can’t remember what being healthy feels like anymore. So if I can fight for people who need whatever medication will help them, then that’s what I’m going to do. Okay, I’m putting my soapbox away…for now (wink).

I think if the politicians who block medical marijuana had to go through one chemo treatment the laws would be changed quickly. I don’t know how I would have been able to function without my anti-nausea meds. Chemo has so many side effects besides the nausea, so if you can take something that will ease one of your symptoms do yourself a favor and take it. Taking your anti-nausea meds will make a miserable experience a little bit easier. And take them religiously when you’re supposed to. I made myself a chart of what to take, what time, day, etc. It will make your life much easier.

While I was going through chemo my pocketbook looked like a pharmacy. I had my anti-nausea meds just in case I felt like I was going to toss my cookies, then I had Tums and Zantac to deal with the indigestion and reflux caused by the chemo itself and the other medications I was taking. But remember, not everyone has the same side effects, some people have very minimal side effects and that could be you. Definitely think positive and don’t stress about what side effects you may or may not get. But if you do experience them, take the medications that will help if you need them. In the meantime I’ll work on seeing how we can get those medals.

  • Jenn G.D.

Cancer, With a Twist (One Cancer Survivor’s Story of Humor, Hope and a Hint of Sarcasm) Chapter 3: Fun With Chemo Side Effects!

My treatment regimen consisted of six months of chemotherapy. I’ll go into more detail in another chapter but for now, a little sarcastic look at some of the side effects that I dealt with. I saw this next part in play form so that’s why it’s written the way it is:

JENN:

I’m thankful for traditional medicine but I’m also a believer in alternative medicine if the situation calls for it. If you can treat something without the use of a harsh drug I would rather go that route if it’s safe, and frankly the thought of going through chemotherapy scared the shit out of me, but I had a family at home that I wanted to live for and the prognosis for me was good if I went through chemotherapy, so chemo won the coin toss!

NARRATOR: Let’s see, chemotherapy… here are some chemo side effects: nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, indigestion, acid reflux, possible lung damage, possible heart damage, skin changes, possible sterility, mind numbing fatigue a general feeling of crappiness…

JENN: Wow, where do I sign up? Everyone’s chemotherapy is different and I’m certainly no authority on anything but what I went through. For my treatment my “cocktail” was called ABVD which stood for the four different medications being pumped into my veins twice a month for six months. Adriamycin (which turns your urine red…Thankfully they tell you that ahead of time so that you don’t think that you’re hemorrhaging the next time you go to the bathroom and it usually only lasted for a little bit that day), Bleomycin, Vinblastine (which when injected into my IV gave me such a gross taste in my mouth. I tried to eat different types of mints when it was being injected so that I wouldn’t taste it. The only ones that worked for me were Altoids. I would literally put at least three in my mouth as it was being injected and they would mask the taste of the medicine which to me tasted like moth balls. Yuck, I know. God bless those curiously strong little mints!) And last but not least Dacarbazine which burned while it was being infused. They would run saline at the same time to minimize the disintegration of my veins who now hide whenever I need any bloodwork.

NARRATOR: Wait I have some more possible side effects: Emotional instability.

JENN: Like I needed more of that.

NARRATOR: Hair loss.

JENN: You say hair loss I say I don’t have to shave my legs for six months, I’m a glass half full kind of gal, and since most of my chemo took place during the spring and summer, it was a little chemo perk not to have to shave.

NARRATOR: Oh wait here’s a good one, apparently chemo can either give you diarrhea or make you constipated.

JENN:  Yeah, I don’t know what’s worse, shitting your brains out or being full of shit, that one’s a toss-up.

NARRATOR: Mouth sores.

JENN: They’re as fun as they sound.

NARRATOR: Weight gain from anti-nausea meds which are also steroids.

JENN: I was happy to gain weight rather than lose it during chemo and possibly be more immune compromised but most of my weight went right to my middle. Let me tell you, looking three months pregnant when you are is really cute, looking three months pregnant when you’re not, not so cute and in the irony of it all one of the side effects from my anti-nausea medication was that it may cause nausea. Wait a minute this is an anti-nausea medication that may cause nausea, am I missing something here? But I took it anyway and it worked.

NARRATOR: Chemo brain. What the hell is chemo brain, did you make that up?

JENN: Ah, good ‘ol chemo brain. Let me explain. In very simplified terms chemo brain is a general sense of mental fogginess, cognitive and memory issues that can occur during and after treatment. For example, one time I went to the grocery store to recycle my plastic bags and I was carrying my canvas reusable bag on my arm. As the cashier finished bagging my groceries into three plastic bags, I looked down, saw my reusable bag still on my arm and laughed to myself. That’s chemo brain. It’s the madness we all feel normally, what day is it? Where did I put my keys? What did I do last weekend? Now magnify that times one hundred and you have chemo brain. Okay maybe my formula isn’t scientifically valid but that’s what it feels like.

NARRATOR: Chemo can throw your body into early menopause.

JENN: Now prior to my cancer diagnosis I had already been wondering where my libido had gone. I even put up signs, “If you see my libido can you tell it to call home?” I told my doctor that I thought my libido may be backpacking through Europe, she laughed. Maybe it was a pity laugh but I’m not above taking a cheap laugh. Then my period starting getting weird around July. I would get it and then it would go away after a couple of days. Then it would come back again the next week. My period did that again in August and then in September I didn’t get my period at all. My uterus didn’t know whether to shit or wind its watch.

– Jenn G.D.

 

To My Pasty Peeps

Welcome to summer! Okay, I know it’s been summer for awhile now, but for the sake of this blog just humor me. So…welcome to summer! Also known as, that time of year when other white people like to point out just how pale I really am. If you tan well, you may not be aware of this phenomenon or maybe you’re one of the perpetrators, hmm???

Dear fellow Caucasians…

First of all, I’m white? WHAT? Now that’s a brilliant observation. Please point out something else blatantly obvious while you’re at it.

Some white people, not all of us, but some white people get a little weird about other white people’s skin color as soon as the summer comes along. As if those of us who don’t tan well or choose not to tan are somehow offending their delicate sensibilities. It’s not like my skin color is going to miraculously change when the rest of the year I’m as pasty as Elmer’s. I mean, come on.

Some of us are melanin challenged and I apologize if my paleness offends you.

Yes, I’ve heard it all before; I’m so white, I’m pale. Let’s face it, I’m practically translucent.

Let me answer one of the questions that I usually get asked; Why yes, I go out into the sunlight everyday, but with SPF 700 it’s kind of hard to get a tan. And before you say anything about my SPF level, know that if I don’t use it I’ll get as red as a boiled lobster and that’s just not the look I’m going for. Not to mention that little thing called skin cancer, but I digress. All four of my great-grandparents came from Italy, but apparently my DNA either didn’t get the memo or just doesn’t give a shit.

So white people who tan easily, it’s going to be OKAY. You can’t catch it. Your savage tan will not disappear in my pale presence. And to all of my pasty peeps I say…stay pasty my friends.

Women Have Vaginas…and Other Facts Body Shamers Don’t Know

In today’s “stating the obvious” news I’d like to talk about this epidemic of body shaming, how some people think it’s ok to comment on women’s bodies whether they’re celebrities, just some regular person on the internet or the person standing five feet from you. I don’t like when it happens to men either but women definitely get the brunt of the criticism. Recently another woman was called names online for a picture of herself in a bikini because people saw she had, wait for it…CELLULITE.

Here’s the thing, saying women have cellulite or that they’ve gained weight after having a baby is like saying women have VAGINAS, yes because they’re women, it goes with the territory. All women have cellulite, on some women it’s less visible but we all have it. And baby weight, maybe if you’re genetically inclined you lose it quickly but that’s not the norm for most women. Pointing stuff like that out is like when you have a pimple and someone comments on it. Gee thanks I didn’t see that thing on my FACE until you had to so generously remind me it was there, thank you.

Here are some other shocking facts about women, we also fart, burp and poop. We’re human beings, not robots. I also think that men and boys should be able to cry and show emotion when they’re hurt instead of how our society shames them into bottling their feelings. They’re human too, and not robots, and raising generations of males filled with rage because we expect them to deny their emotions has really turned out well for society…but that’s another issue for another day. For the people who like to point out what they see as flaws in others, here are some other things that are factual like cellulite: the sky is blue, grass is green, it’s cold in the winter, hot in the summer…you get the idea.

I’ve been very thin my whole life and have been asked questions over the years like “Do you eat?” Really? No, I just happen to magically exist, like a unicorn. My point is this, no matter what you look like someone will always have something to say about it, even though they shouldn’t. If you want to change because it’s your decision that’s fine but don’t change who you are or what you look like because of something someone mean said to you.

Anyone who feels the need to point out what they see as “negative” in other people needs to look in the mirror and work on their own self esteem. Because people who are confident in themselves don’t feel the need to tear other people down. Here’s a good rule of thumb, it’s what I teach my children. If you have something nice to say about someone’s appearance then by all means compliment them but if you don’t then zip it. If you’re truly concerned about someone’s health you can say something to them but I think there are some rules that should go along with that. First you can’t just be an acquaintance who “means well.” You must actually love the person, have celebrated a birthday with them, something substantial like that. If not refer to my previous rule and zip it. To those of you who always point out the negative, you know who you are, if you learned this behavior because someone in your life said mean things to you, you must now take responsibility for your behavior and change. When you catch yourself about to say something mean, stop and think would you want someone to say that about you or someone you love? I don’t think so. Now go spread some love!

(Find me on Twitter @JennGDonohue)