Monday, April 30, 2012

April 30

Tonight, I am tense. I have been all day.

I'm not sure why.

Okay, that's a lie. I may not be sure, but I think I know why. At least part of it. ... I didn't sleep well last night. At all. I had a hard time falling asleep. I woke up at 1:00 and had a hard time falling back asleep. I tossed and turned all night and finally fell into a hard sleep at about 4:00. ... And then I woke up at 6:30 and it was Monday.

This is not an auspicious way to start a day. (It being Monday, that is. Restless nights are not generally such a big deal, but when they're followed by a Monday morning, they're brutal.)

I survived the day. It's almost 9:00 PM and I'm still oddly tense. I'm pretty sure I'm gonna have to take an Ativan to be able to lie down and breathe at the same time. ... I haven't had this elephant-on-the-chest feeling in a long time. (Viva la walking meditation and the fact that my new sleep rules have resulted in me being more chill on a daily basis than I was without either of them!)

Tonight, I am super grateful for anti-anxiety medication that I know will cut the tension when nothing else will. And glory be and hallelujah for the knowledge that tonight I will sleep like a rock. For at least 6 hours. (Because that's how long the Ativan stays in my system. Whatever. I'll take it!)

Friday, April 27, 2012

April 27

The song Live Like You Were Dying always makes me feel like I should have a bucket list.

*Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't seen the movie Bucket List, because this video is gonna tell you more than you want to know about the movie if you don't already know it like the back of your hand. You know, like I do.

I have to say it. I freaking LOVE this movie! And not just because Morgan Freeman reminds me of my grandad. (You know, if my grandad had been black. I think it's the eyes. And the posture.) Anyway, I love this movie and when I was looking for videos for this song and saw that someone had set it to scenes from this movie, I was thrilled. That first "sky-diving" reference before the video cuts back to the song was genius.

Anyway, what I was saying (before I went off on that Morgan Freeman/Russell Ball tangent) is... this song comes on the radio at work at least once a day (probably more like three times a day - we have a commercial free radio station and it loops a lot of the same songs through at the same time every day). At least once a week, when I hear this song come on, I stop whatever it is that I'm doing. I stop and I listen and I think for a minute and I wonder why I can't make a bucket list. This song makes it sound like a fun thing to have. For a girl who loves lists as much as I do (and... uh... a girl who has the cancer), you'd think I'd be all over this bucket list business. But I just can't make one. I probably could have before I had a diagnosis, but now it feels oddly final to even think about making this kind of list, so I don't.

But I still love the movie Bucket List. And I still love this song. Because I can relate on a lot of levels. Not that I want to go sky diving or Rocky Mountain climbing. (And we'll all know that there's something truly and deeply wrong with me if I ever talk about wanting to ride a bull named Fumanchu.) Oh, no. Having the cancer did not turn me into a daredevil. (Nor did it make me a sports fan. Sorry, Mich.) But it clarified what really matters in my life, and I can relate to a lot of the lyrics in this song. ... I can tell you is that the line "Someday, I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying" always makes me choke. Always. As does "I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter". Not that I've ever felt like I was dying per se, but I can tell you here and now that cancer changed my life. It changed me.

I've always made an effort to make and keep lasting relationships. People have always mattered to me. My friends and my family have always been at the top of my priority list and I've worked really hard to maintain relationships with those both near and far. And that work has paid off. In the last two years, those relationships have proved to be the most valuable thing I have. (Okay, so they're the ONLY valuable thing I have. The point is, I value them. A lot.) I'm grateful for the clarity that being sick can bring. I'm grateful for not only the amazing people in my life, but the awareness that I have of how incredibly blessed I am to have them.

Now, if I could just find a ridiculously wealthy person to fly me all over the world and buy me all kinds of stuff. (Maybe a little younger than Jack Nicholson? ... Maybe someone who looked like Nathan Fillion? Come on, Universe. I'm sending my messages out loud and clear here. Make it happen!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April 25

I have an update on the insurance front.

Don't get all excited now... it is not great news.

I had a conference call with our sort of HR/liaison company this morning, who advised that the new STD policy has a 12 month exclusionary clause. (This is not a huge surprise, most insurance policies have a waiting period of some sort for disability insurance. Which is understandable, they don't want people to buy a policy one day and file a claim the next. I get it. It sort of stinks for someone in my situation, but I totally get it.)

Anyway, they have a 12 month exclusionary clause. Which means that I wouldn't be able to file a claim and receive any disability payouts until I'd been with them until May 2013. Translation: if I have to have surgery between now and May 1, 2013, I'm pretty much plumb out of luck when it comes to any income while I'm out of work.

Truth be told, I had been expecting this news, so I'd had a back-up plan in mind of continuing the disability policy I currently have so I'd have some sort of coverage if anything should happen between now and a year from now. It would mean paying a double premium, but I figured it would be worth it for the peace of mind of knowing that I had something in place, should I need it. Unfortunately, upon doing a little research into my current disability insurance, it's not a guaranteed continuance. I'd have to answer a medical questionnaire and possibly pass a test to prove that I'm in good health to continue my plan privately once I lose the current group benefit. ... Uh, too bad I am not in good health. It's hard enough to qualify for insurance with a history of cancer (I've been told more than once that without a remission period of 5 years, it's better not to even apply), and I'm smack dab in the middle of dealing with this.

I am frustrated. I am unsure of what this means for my future. I am scared. ... And I'm trying with all of my heart to have faith that, somehow, this will all work out.

Today, I really, really, really hate the cancer. I don't have a lot of warm fuzzies for it on a regular basis, but today it's set me on edge in a major way. (And yeah, I know that I'm supposed to be focused on enjoying the moments and not be worried about the future. That's a great plan and all, but listen... it's just not reality today.) Today, I am worried about my future and I'm frustrated with the way this insurance thing has panned out. Or not panned out, as the case may be.

Friday, April 20, 2012

April 20

My second appointment with the psychologist was this afternoon, and it was... interesting. We went through a couple visualization exercises; a walking meditation and a sitting/visualization technique. (I so prefer the walking, btw. We all know that I love a long, slow walk around the block. That I now have permission to walk even slower is like Christmas came early. So much for any pressure to beat my personal best of walking 3 miles in an hour. I am now officially a tortoise, and I'm good with that.)

I did have some bizarre tension crop up during the sitting/visualization, which annoyed me to no end, because I so badly wanted to be zen...but since I'd also had some irrational and angry thoughts (I may or may not have thought (read: definitely did think) something along the lines of "Who are you to tell me that I need to learn how to live in the present and not worry about the future? I'm sorry, but have YOU ever been told that you have the cancer... THREE TIMES?! Try living with that kind of diagnosis and not worrying about the future!") during our little practice walking meditation, I knew that I needed to talk to her about it. I mean, she is my psychologist and all. I figure, if there's anyone I should be talking to about my sudden flares of anger/frustration, she'd be the girl! (Even if it was her who I'd been mentally swearing out during our "calming" stroll around the grounds.)

When I explained the odd mix I'd felt of complete relaxation in my limbs versus serious tension in my chest, she just nodded her head. She said she wasn't surprised. She told me that she'd worried that my head would have a hard time wrapping itself around how these exercises would help me. ... She went on to explain that everyone has a dominant side: cognitive (intellectual) vs. emotional, and that our dominant side determines how we see things and process what's going on in our world. It seems, my friends, that I am one of the lucky souls who was born with TWO dominant sides. (This revelation will not come as a surprise to anyone who truly knows me.) We talked for a while about how some decisions that I make are solely heart-based. Often, how I feel is the only thing that matters, and on a lot of levels I'm a huge proponent of the "follow your heart" adage. ... At the same time, I'm incredibly analytical and detail oriented. My mind rules my life as often, and as strongly, as my heart does. I'm totally fine with crying during a coffee commercial because it tugs at my heart strings, but at the same time, if something doesn't make perfect sense to my rational brain, I absolutely cannot let myself do it.

According to the shrink, there's nothing wrong with me. (I asked.) She told me that she doesn't see two dominant sides in a person often, esp with dominants as strong as mine are. (Again, anyone who truly knows me knows that I am both exceptionally analytical and super emotional.) We talked about how it can be difficult to fluctuate between the need to feel vs. think my way through my life, and how that could complicate my therapy with her. ... Half of me is all about finding a way to feel and sleep better, and I think this visualization therapy could be the ticket to both. The other half of me cannot rationalize how going somewhere in my imagination will help me deal with the reality of my life. She sat back in her chair and said that it must be exhausting to have two strong dominants. ... It. Is. Exhausting. I'll tell you, though, that it felt really great to have someone (a professional, at that) tell me that both my need to plan and prepare and think my way through things and my sudden emotional outbursts are valid and, at the very core of me, part of who I am.

The theory (and hope) is that the visualization practices will bring the two sides of my brain a little bit closer together. That is, if I can get over the fact that the thought of sitting (or lying) still and doing nothing except breathing makes me want to scream bloody murder. The good doc knows that I am going to be a bit of a challenge in this department. She sent me home with two cd's that I can use to practice visualization on my own. My assignment is to listen to each of them at least once and then report back what I like and what I don't. Her guess is that she's going to have to tweak her usual treatment to find something that will work for my "contrary self" (her words). My next appointment is in two weeks. Wish me luck in getting all of these relaxation/visualization audios listened to so I can get her headed in a direction of custom-creating a program for me...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

April 18

Today was the day.

The day that I put something on that didn't fit.

Awesome. (By which I mean: not awesome.)

Last Thursday, I was lying in bed with my hands on my stomach when I realized that my stomach doesn't feel like it used to. Not that I've ever been a person with an actually flat stomach (hi, have you met me?), but in the months after having had my last surgery, I could actually feel my ribs and my hips when I was flat on my back.

Not anymore.

Like I said, I noticed that my stomach is a little fuller on Thursday of last week. This morning, I had to change my outfit because the dress that I'd thrown on was pulling a little across my tummy.

Either this tumor is starting to grow, or I have got to stop eating that stupid spicy chicken sandwich. (Curse you, Wendy's drive-thru! I tell you, that Wendy girl is my best friend and my worst enemy, all rolled into one.)

Monday, April 16, 2012

April 16

Tonight, I had dinner at the movies with my friends Christian and Kelsey.

Yes, you read that right. We had dinner at the movies. ... It was glorious!

There's a theater by my work that's recently been refurbished. It's an older building, but the new owners gutted it and replaced everything. It just opened a few months ago and Christian and I have been meaning to go and check it out. Tonight, we went and saw Mirror, Mirror with Kels. That theater is totally awesome. (And the movie wasn't half bad, either. I was very pleasantly surprised.) The tickets were only $6 (suh-weet!) and they totally serve you dinner IN the theater. (They give you a menu when you purchase your ticket and you can order anything off the full menu at any point during the movie. They just bring your bill when the movie's about to end, so you can give them your card - just like you were out to eat at an actual restaurant.) The food was fabulous and the prices were very reasonable (think Chili's).

I'm a fan. A big fan of this place. And I'm not just saying that because I have such fond memories of the theater as it used to be. (Insert snarky laugh here.)

Yes, folks. This is the theater. As in, the one I ... erm ... "christened" back in February 2008.

For those of you who haven't been following mi vida loca for the past four years, I will repost the story as it was originally typed/posted on the very night that it happened:

Can I get a catheter with that combo?

So, here's another "sad but true" from the life of me...

I'd had kind of a long day at work today, so this afternoon I thought I'd check the local theater for show times and see if there was anything worth watching. You know me, I'd always rather go to a movie than go home after work - and when there's a show that starts at 4:30, I can leave work and get there before the previews are over. It's awesome! (This theater is literally a block up the street from where I work. It's $5 for a matinee, there's never anyone there to fight in line at the concession stand. It rocks!) As luck would have it, Fools Gold started at 4:30 on the dot. SCORE!

I hurried to the theater after work, got my ticket, and... then realized I was probably going to starve to death if I didn't get some popcorn and a coke. (Not to mention, this theater has the best popcorn I've found in a long time.) So, I bought my movie ticket at one end of the concession stand, and then was pushed over onto a kid a few feet away to get my popcorn and soda. Apparently the popcorn/soda kid was a newbie, because he asked if I'd like a medium popcorn and a soda. (Who gets a medium soda? Please.) I said, "no, thanks - I'll take a large drink... and a large popcorn", thinking that a large/large combo makes much more sense when one is having popcorn and a coke in place of a meal - as I was doing. He says "you sure?", I say "yup", and go back to rifling through my purse while the kid makes my dinner. Imagine my surprise when I look up to see, I kid you not, a 64 oz coke and a literal bucket of popcorn being passed to me across the counter. I mean, like... more than a gallon of popcorn. Literally half of what it would take to fill one of those food storage buckets we had growing up. Un-freaking-believable... The funniest part is that when I commented on how "large" the large drink and popcorn were, the kid told me I could come back and get them refilled as many times as I wanted. Yeah, right... as if I could eat/drink that and come back for more. Please.

Gargantuan soda and popcorn in hand, I made my way to the way back theater to see the movie. (Let me draw you a picture - this theater is one of those old-school-sprawled-out-multi-plexes. You know, the really old theaters that were built to cover a rough city block, back in the day when it was a novelty to show more than 2 movies in one building. I mean, this building is OLD - the theaters are long and narrow, the seats do recline (barely), but the arm-rests don't move. And there are exactly two bathrooms in the entire establishment. One for the boys, and one for the girls, located on opposite ends of the building. You're beginning to get the picture, I am sure.) My movie was "to the left", or so the ticket taker told me. He was not kidding... it was to the left. As in "turn left and walk 100 yards" - left. My theater was the very last in the very long row of theaters in a very narrow building. I got into the theater just as the beginning credits were rolling, settled down into the back row, propped my feet up on the seats in front of me (you've gotta love being the only person in an entire theater who paid to see the 4:30 show), positioned the bucket of popcorn and soda in my lap (no cup holder in the arm rest) and sat back, ready to enjoy Matthew McConauhottie in his latest shirtless adventure.

Sure enough, sooner than I can explain it, I'm laughing it up, enjoying the Key West scenery, ogling Matthew, and.... my coke is gone. It's about... oh, I'd say 20 minutes into the movie, and my straw is making that "empty cup" sound. (I know, I can't explain myself. There is something in fountain Coke that just makes me... I don't know, suck it down.) I think to myself "the kid did say that I could have as many refills as I wanted" and consider hoofing it back to the concession stand, but when push comes to shove, I know that I'd be taking a chance on missing Matthew do something unexpected (like drag an anchor across the ocean floor), and I opt to "tough it out", so I just hang out with the bucket of popcorn, and proceed to eat half of that... dry, with nothing to wash it down. (Again - I know. I don't know how in the world I ate all of that.)

About halfway through the movie, I start to get uncomfortable. In a "gosh, I wish they'd do some land shots... all this water is making me feel like I have to pee" kind of way. (Yeah, the water shots/sounds AND the 64 ounces of liquid refreshment I'd downed not half an hour earlier.) Another 20-30 minutes into the movie, and I was literally crossing my legs and concentrating on "not thinking about it", sure that if I didn't think about it, I'd be able to make it through the movie. Ten minutes later (maybe 10 minutes before the end of the show) I knew I had to make a run for it. I grabbed my purse and started the trek to the ladies' room. I got about halfway through the complex (remember the 100 yard walk from the concession stand to the theater I was in? the men's room was right by the concession stand...). When I got to the men's room, it was like my bladder had eyes in the front of my head, and suddenly I realized I was about to lose it. My body could sense that toilets were near, but my mind could not let me walk into the men's room... I looked ahead (I'd made it about half way) to the ladies' room, and thought (unbelievably enough) "if I run, I think I'll make it". (Yeah right, like running when you're about to burst is ever a good idea, but that is what I thought.) And that is what I did. I started to trot, and... as soon as my second foot hit the floor, the dam burst. I mean, burst... I ran to the ladies', all the while peeing a steady stream. Not leaking, not spotting... PEEING. (And laughing, mind you. Kind of hysterically. That didn't help.) By the time I got the the ladies', my pants were soaked to the knees, I had pee splattered on my shoes, and I still had to go! I went into a stall to finish the job... peed for a ridiculously, seemingly impossibly long time, all the while bent over sopping up my shoes with TP and cursing my luck that I was going to have to walk back into the theater and into the parking lot in my state. The worst of it was that I was having guilt pangs about having left my popcorn bucket and coke cup there for the janitors to pick up. I opted to run back to the theater to get my bucket and cup and throw them out, lest my mother ever find out I left my trash for someone else to throw out (forget the fact that her 33 yr old daughter just peed her pants in public)...

I trotted my way back to the theater (a much easier feat on an empty bladder than it is on a full one), caught the last 5 minutes of the movie (standing, mind you... I wasn't going to sit in a public seat in my state, don't you worry about that), took my bucket and cup out to the trash, and... thanked my lucky stars that I'd been in the far left theater - as there was an exit right outside my theater door. I made a mad dash through the parking lot to my car, thanked my lucky stars that it was twilight and thus not quite so obvious that my pants were in such a state... then thanked my lucky stars AGAIN at my foresight in having worn a coat to work this morning (so I had something to sit on while I drove the 30 minutes it takes to get home).

Needless to say, I came straight home, threw my clothes (and coat) in the laundry and myself in the shower.... and then typed this all out for your reading pleasure. :) As horrifying as it is to me that I had an "accident" of such magnitude, I'm so grateful that it didn't happen on a date (can you imagine the horror?), that I had to tell you all about it. I'm going to consider this a lesson learned in moderation - next time I go to the movies and a kid offers me a medium drink, I think I'll take it. Unless, of course, I can get a catheter to go with my large, in which case I might even take the kid up on the free refills.

True story, folks. True. Story. I had to literally upend my ballet flats and pour the pee out of them. (Don't worry, I threw the shoes away.)

The best part about the movie last night was the proximity of the ladies' room to the theater we were in. Knowing that theater as I do, I'd had some concerns that I may have to walk a little too far to get to the little girls' room. Lucky for me (and the girls who were with me, both of whom have known me since 2008 and are well aware of my ... uh ... escapades), the toilets were no more than 20 feet from the door of our theater.

We'll totally be going back. The place has really been spruced up. All new seats. All new carpet. All new staff, none of which know anything about me or my unfortunate episode...

Friday, April 13, 2012

April 13

As I told my friend Christian on our ride in to work together this morning, "You know it's been a bad week when you wake up and think to yourself, 'It's Friday the 13th, and this is going to be the best day so far this week'". As it turns out, I was right. This was, by far, the best day I've had all week.

Did I get answers to all of my insurance concerns? Nope, I sure didn't. In fact, I received a lovely email this afternoon from the rep for the new company, confirming that three of my four doctors are not listed as approved physicians. The email went on to advise me that if they would like to be added as preferred providers, they can apply - but that I might want to get started on that, as it can take months for the process to go through. She ended her email with "I hope this information has been of help to you".

Winner, winner, chicken dinner on the customer service front. (Read: No, actually, the information you gave was not of help to me.)

Oh, well. The good news is that she did give me some pointers on some other billing identification numbers that may help me. I'll start chasing that down on Monday. As sick as it may sound, I'm actually glad that her email didn't come until about 4:00 this afternoon. It was too late in the day for me to start playing phone tag with MD and the ins co., and that bought me some peace of mind that I would like to think will last me all weekend. I figure, there's nothing I can do about any of it until Monday, so I might as well just let it go for 48 hours. I'll pick that stress back up on Monday.

Say it with me: "Everything will be okay. Everything will be okay. Everything will be okay." Somehow, someway... I have to believe that this will all work itself out. (Because if it doesn't, my doctors aren't covered as of May 1, and that simply cannot happen.)

Meanwhile, back on the mascara-science-project front, I'd like to announce... we have a winner! (And the winner is: Revlon Grow Luscious Plumping. It's a mouthful and a half to say and/or type, but it's some good stuff.)

Here, at 11:00 PM, after a very long day (albeit not quite as emotional as a few of the other days I've had this week), is what my eyelashes look like:

Okay, so I'm not going to be winning any beauty contests with this, I know. But it was nice to come home at the end of a very long day, look in the mirror, and actually think that I looked like myself.

At the end of a week of serious emotional fallout, I thank Heaven (literally) for the little things. (The little things = having mascara stay on my eyelashes, rather than flake, run or smear down to my cheekbones.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 12

I've learned a lot this week. And because I'm such a giver, I'm going to pass my new found information on.

This mascara:

Flakes right off a girl's eyelashes. (If that girl is me, that is.) I didn't use to notice it as much, but I'm here to tell you... when a girl has one of those days where she's constantly putting her face in her hands and wondering what's going on with her life, this mascara starts dropping off in big, flaky flakes. And it's not attractive.

This mascara:

Has a new nickname, and that nickname is McSmeary. ... Now, don't get me wrong, if a girl is having a normal, non-emotional day, this is good stuff. But if, say, a girl has this on her eyelashes on the very same day that she finds out that neither her cancer center nor the oncologist she's proposed to are on the list of preferred providers of her new insurance plan... Smear City.

This mascara:

Used to be my best friend. Honestly, we were together for years in the late 80's and early 90's. This was my go-to mascara for a decade or more. I only knew of two kinds of mascara when I was in high school, and "the stuff in the pink and green tube" didn't do it for me. ... It turns out, neither does this. Either my eyelashes have aged, or I cry more now than I used to. (And I'm here to tell you, I was a crazy crying adolescent.) Whatever it is, the trusty blue Professional mascara isn't helping me look like a professional - you know, since I can cry off a double layer in about 3 minutes.

I tell you, I've gone through three tubes of mascara this week. Not "gone through", as in "actually used the whole tube"... but at the end of the day, every day, I've come home and picked up a tube of mascara and thrown it in the trash.

Not that I'm blaming the mascara companies for my flaky, smeary, just-plain-not-staying-on issues with their products. Hello, I'm a crying machine this week. (Okay, always. But this week has been a doozy.) I'm just saying, in my time of emotional duress, I've found that these three brands all found different ways to not stay on my eyelashes.

Again, I'm not blaming the manufacturers for not being able to keep up with my tear ducts. I'm just saying... if you cry a lot, then these three mascaras may not be for you.

All I can say is that we (yes, I'm invoking the royal "we") are way past ready to stop looking like this:

And go back to looking like this:

(It's staggering, isn't it, how much longer my eyelashes look when I haven't cried or rubbed my make-up off? Honestly, the difference is unreal.)

Tomorrow I'm going back to this tried and true favorite:

Wish me luck. (With both the not crying and the mascara. Heaven - and everyone who reads this blog - knows how much I need it!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April 11

This week feels like it's been about a dozen days long. ... Oh, but it's only Wednesday. Awesome.

Here is the progress report on my insurance/medical hunt for information:

I was able to determine that MD Anderson is covered by the Banner Gateway umbrella. So, it's not such a big deal that MD isn't listed by name in the insurance company's database of providers. Banner is, so I should be covered for services performed in their building. Phew!

I was able to talk to my financial specialist (have I told you that in addition to a slew of doctors who've been assigned to me, I also have a financial specialist and a social worker?), who walked me through how to find my doctors' NPI numbers online. (I'm getting to be a veritable expert in the medical field. I kid - I'm not an expert, by any means. But I do know a lot more than I used to, and I am more than happy to share that knowledge with you. ... An NPI number is like a SSN for doctor, sort of, in that it's unique and is used to identify doctors, industry-wide.) I was able to find the NPI numbers for the three doctors who are not on the insurance company's site as preferred providers and I've sent an email to my management, asking them to talk to the insurance company and add those specific doctors. The fact that the hospital is covered should make it a whole lot easier to get the doctors' names on their list.

Side note: Hallelujah for a step that might have been really complicated being made easier by the parent hospital already having been approved!

I thought of a possible workaround for not being able to apply for STD with the new carrier. There's a chance that I might be able to continue the policy I currently have, privately, after the bank breaks with that provider. Cancer would still be a pre-existing condition with them, most likely, but at least I'd be covered if I got hit by a bus, a flock of seagulls, or anything else that could throw me into a state of either short or long term disability. What I'm saying is, I may have found a way to keep some disability insurance in place, should the unthinkable (other than than cancer, which, as we all know, is a current event) happen.

I'm working on completing the enrollment in the new insurance plan, which includes forms that I can use to request to have all funds paid toward my deductible and out-of-pocket costs on my current plan credited to the new plan. Only time will tell exactly what they'll give me, but you'd better know that I'm asking for the full amount that I've paid in on my current plan. You know me, I figure I might as well ask for what I want. It can't hurt. :-)

*In other related and fantastic news, MD Anderson was able to confirm that they do have a contract with my new insurance company, so I'll still get the contracted/reduced rate. (This is HUGE and a non-contracted rate had been a major concern of mine. For example: the flat cost of my quarterly MRI's is just over $15K, the contracted price that my current insurance company gets billed is roughly $4,500. That the new insurance company also has a contracted rate is beyond fantastic. Whether they're contracted at the same rate or not remains to be seen, but I'm a big fan of knowing that the insurance alone will cut me a deal. ... The extreme difference in the "flat price" of a service versus the adjusted "contracted price" is a talk we can have on another day. I know that the difference is extreme, and that it's ridiculous. Right now, I'm just glad to know that I'll still be getting the insurance contract price break. I need all the help that I can get, frankly, and I'll take it anywhere I can get it.)

At the end of the day, I don't really know that much more than I did yesterday. But I do know that my treatment center is covered, and that gives me all kinds of hope that everything with the doctors will work itself out. I still have no idea what will happen with the disability insurance, and I had a decidedly less than fruitful discussion with my social worker this afternoon, but overall... this day was infinitely better than yesterday. Do I know how it's going to work out? No. But I have faith that it will.

And meanwhile, my imagination is percolating as I'm trying to think of another way to bring in some dough. (Just in case my imaginary love affair with Nathan doesn't pan out.) More info on that to come as I settle on a direct line of action.

April 11 - Morning

The good news about today is that I didn't wake up crying.

Listen, I have to be grateful for the little things. And dry eyes is something that I'll take, whenever I can get them, esp after the big, fat cry-fest that was yesterday.

Another thought I had: Maybe I can get my social worker at MD on the case. I don't know if there's anything the cancer center itself can do to get covered by an insurance carrier, but just in case... she's worth a shot. (Also, she's someone I need to talk to about what will happen to me if and when I have surgery and don't have any kind of STD income coming in. I'm thinking that I may need to throw myself a fund raiser and she's the girl who will know exactly how much money I may need versus how much money would be too much to have in the bank. -- If I have too much money, I can't qualify for federal grants or assistance. Too much money in my account is, obviously, not something I worry about on a daily basis, but I like to think that the universe will throw all kinds of money at me once I formally declare that I need it and throw a fundraiser for myself. I just want to make sure I won't hurt my chances of getting assistance from somewhere other than the kindness of friends and strangers. The social worker could be a huge ally here.) I must call her today.

My other thoughts this morning are along the lines of, where do I find the fine line between being content and happy in my current life and preparing for a future that I have reason to believe may be difficult, physically and financially? ... People keep telling me to just be happy today, because today is all I really have. I get this principle, I really do, and I make an effort every day to find the little things that make me happy or bring me joy. The thing is, I also happen to have a diagnosis that tells me what is coming. And what's coming isn't certain death, by any means. But it is certain pain (I've had the surgery twice, and I know what it is like to have to learn to walk again), and it is certain lack of an ability to work, and there is a toll that it takes on my body. And I am unable to drive for 6-8 weeks, let alone work and bring in any kind of money.

So, please believe me when I say that I know the importance of finding joy in the journey. I know that this day is the most important day I will have, because it's the only one I can actually do anything with. I know these things. - I also know that I have surgery in my future. I have a kind of tumor that is rare, and virtually untreatable. (Nothing beats going to the doctor and hearing that chemo doesn't work on what I have, and neither will more radiation.) I live in hope that this surgery will be my last, that Dr. G will be able to truly get to the root of the issue and it will never come back. But I have to wonder what will happen if he doesn't get it all, if he can't, and this is something that I need to learn how to live with, because I'll be on a tumor-growing cycle for the rest of my earthly days. ... Let alone how I'm going to pay for this as a single gal with my limited funds.

I figure this blog can go viral and I'll get a book deal and it'll be a best seller, or Nathan Fillion will come into my life and marry me and pay for all of my medical needs for the rest of my life. I'm fine with either scenario.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 10

Today was one of those days where I feel like I fell into the fire.

As in, you know, out of the frying pan and "into the fire".

The frying pan, in this instance is (has been, rather) my current medical insurance, and the fire would be the new insurance plan.

Here is the back story, for those of you unfamiliar with the saga of my insurance life:

I made a move to a new company in September of 2011. It was a tough decision, in that the company that I had been with prior was incredibly easy to work with in regards to my health struggles. I mean, they were amazing. My direct supervisors? Amazing. HR? Amazing. Our insurance and all-around benefits package? Amazing. ... The company was incredible (I didn't want to say "amazing" one more time) to work for. The only downside was that my job didn't challenge me the way that I wanted to be challenged. It was a little too repetitive for me. I missed the hustle and bustle and unpredictability of my former work life. ... So, when someone I used to work with (or, for, rather) came to me and told me that the bank he was with was growing and they were creating a position in the loan department, and asked if I'd be interested - I couldn't tell him no. Not that it was a snap decision. It was so not a snap decision. My prior company had been so good to me. Their benefits package was, as I have mentioned, outstanding. Even if I didn't always enjoy the job itself, I enjoyed working with the people on my team. All in all, it was a pretty sweet gig. But I longed for the days when I had to multi-task. I missed having a calculator and writing utensils at my disposal, not to mention the option of taking an hour long lunch. ... I missed the corporate world. I missed (gasp) banking. So, I took the job.

Again, let me stress that it was not an easy choice. I had a lot to lose (and I knew it), in the way of benefits. I was a tenured employee and had been with my prior employer long enough to qualify for FMLA, should another health crisis arise. The insurance was mind-blowingly good, not only in how the coinsurance split, but our deductibles were also really low. Again, I was close to a lot of the people I worked with on my team. My brother, Kirk, worked for the company and I was able to see him on an almost daily basis. There were a lot of really good reasons for staying, and yet...

I missed the corporate world. I missed getting dressed up to go to work. I missed my old work life.

So, after some careful investigation of the bank's insurance plan and some serious thought and prayer, I made the decision to make a switch. I knew it was risky, because I'd have to work there for a year before I'd qualify for a medical leave. Also, their insurance plan was a little pricier than what I'd gotten used to... But I figured that the difference in pay would make up for the difference in what I'd lose out-of-pocket towards medical costs. Not to mention my biggest motivator for change - I didn't want the cancer, esp when it was just the fear of it returning, to be what kept me in one place for the rest of my life.

I'd been with the bank for two weeks when open enrollment hit in October and the insurance plan that I thought I'd be signing up for radically changed. The carrier remained the same, so I knew that all my doctors would be covered, but the deductible and co-insurance limits increased dramatically. I took a deep breath, tightened my belt, reminded myself that I'd taken a risk because I hadn't wanted to let fear keep me in one place, and I moved forward, setting hundreds of dollars aside every month for the deductible that I knew I would be hitting with my first battery of tests in January.

Mid-December, we were told that management wasn't thrilled with the new insurance offering that was scheduled to go into effect January 1, and they were looking at other options. The change wouldn't be in place prior to the MRI's I had scheduled for the first week in January, so I went ahead and took care of those, knowing that I would hit my deductible in one fell swoop.

And I did. $1,000 down the hatch, the first week of 2012.

And, as we know, that first round of MRI's showed that there was, in fact, another tumor growing where I'd had two removed. Gulp and double gulp. I'd taken a risk, moving to a new job, hoping that I could go 12 months tumor-free, and I'd lost that gamble. Now I was looking at possibly forking out not only the deductible, but also my $3K maximum out of pocket in the next month or so, should I need surgery. Let alone that I was nowhere close to qualifying for a medical leave, nor would I qualify for STD (that's Short Term Disability insurance, for those of you who may not know insurance lingo - heaven only knows that's not what I thought STD stood for, only a few short - give or take 24 - months ago), as our STD company had a 12 month exclusionary clause.

I was, in the immortal words (uh... word) of one of my illustrious co-workers: screwed.

I was looking at the possibility of having to go out for surgery or cancer treatments, either of which would render me unable to work for a period of weeks or months - when I wouldn't qualify for a medical leave, and even if they granted me one out of the goodness of their hearts, I wouldn't have any STD income for the duration of my absence. Awesome.

Again, as we now know, the tumor hasn't grown. I have not needed to take a medical leave and that piece of the puzzle seems to be holding firm. I'm still hopeful that I won't need surgery until the fall, when I will have reached the 12 month waiting period and will officially qualify for a medical leave.

But back to the insurance drama.

In December, we were told that management was shopping for a different plan, but that for now, anyway, we'd keep what we had. In February, we were told again that they were still shopping. At this point, I had another round of MRI's coming up the first week in March and I asked if they knew when the decision would be made, because my concern was that I'd not only pay my deductible, but also a good third of my maximum out-of-pocket with the current plan, only to have to turn around and pay another deductible and start on a new out-of-pocket with a new insurance company. They weren't sure when the decision would be made, and I needed to have my tests run, so I kept my March appointments, coughed up another $1,000 and proceeded down the highway with my current (soon to be old) insurance plan.

A week ago, I got word that a new insurance company had been approved. Today was the day that the reps from the new company came in and presented it to us.

It has its ups and its downs. (Because, I swear, that's how it always goes.)

The ups:

We're under a larger umbrella, so as of May 1, COBRA is now an option if I were to lose my job. (Previously, COBRA was not an option, as the company I work for has less than 50 employees. What this means to me is that, should I need to go out on a medical leave and for some reason not be able to return to my job at the end of that leave, I now have the peace of mind that comes of knowing that I can continue my health insurance - albeit it at exorbitantly high rates - should I need insurance but be unable to work for a period of time.)

It costs less per month.

The vision insurance is something that I so prefer to what I currently have.

My surgeon is on their preferred provider list.

They will reimburse a deductible that's been paid. (I asked if they'd also reimburse other funds paid toward the maximum out-of-pocket (the few hundreds of dollars I've thrown at office co-pays are just gone out the window) and I got a bit of a runaround. I can submit a request, but was told that it's generally a portion of what's been paid, and it hinges on the similarity of prior and current plan, etc. ... But hey, at least I should be able to get most, if not all, of my deductible credited.)

Just call me Pollyanna.

The downs:

My oncologist is not on their preferred provider list. Neither is my psychologist.

The cancer center itself is not a covered hospital. Banner Gateway is listed, but not MD Anderson. Bizarro. - And not okay, as I need the radiology and imaging and eventually the surgery department in the MD Anderson building at my disposal. (I need this hospital and these doctors approved, as I have a rare tumor and require specific treatment. ... When Dr. W was needing to place me in the hands of a doctor who would know what to do with a recurrent liposarcoma patient, Dr. H was the only one in the greater Phoenix area on his radar. I cannot change providers. I need my insurance company to add my providers to their approved list.)

My copays are going up.

I may not be able to even apply for STD coverage with this new company, as they have a clause that states something along the lines of "if you've received treatment, consulted a doctor or paid any medical bills in the last three months" in their pre-existing exclusionary clause. There may be a work around, and the insurance folks are looking into it, because I haven't actually received treatment ("treatment", for me, is surgery) but chances are that I am now unable to even apply for STD insurance because I have the mother of all pre-existing conditions. (To explain why I may not be able to even apply for this coverage: If you apply for insurance and are denied, it creates a black mark on your insurance record - sort of like having your credit score take a 100 point dump - so it's better not to even apply if there's a chance you'll get denied.) Now, the cancer itself is an obvious pre-existing condition, and I understand why an insurance company wouldn't pay out on that if it was in existence prior to my purchasing a policy, but my concern is that if I can't even apply for STD, then I'm completely out of luck if I get hit by a car or am attacked by killer dolphins or have some other life-altering (and debilitating) event take place. ... Right now, we're just talking about my inability to complete a STD application, but I'm scared out of my mind that this is just the beginning and that I will, forevermore, be uninsurable. Thanks, Cancer, I love you a lot. (Read: I hate your blooming guts.)

*Insert deep sigh here.*

And thus, I am out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Is there a chance that the fire could be squelched? Absolutely. And hope springs eternal that it will be. My boss has asked me to send an email tomorrow morning and copy another manager (whom I absolutely love) with what I need: doctors and facilities I need to have added, etc. They have promised me that they'll do their level best to make this insurance plan something I can work with. I'm hopeful that they can, and that it will all work out; because, right now, the only alternative that I (or they) can see is me trying to find another job with benefits that would cover my doctors. (And this is not what I want to do.)

Good heavens, how dramatic and frustrating this insurance experience has been! I long for the (not so long ago) days when all I cared about was if my primary care physician was listed as a preferred provider, and my biggest medical worry was whether I needed to make an appointment to get a refill on a prescription that had run low, or if my doc would just call it in.


At the end of the day, I have to remember that when I was praying my fool head off in an effort to make a decision about what to do - keep the old job, or go with the new - I had a very distinct impression that everything would be okay. Did the Lord send thunderbolts and make an announcement about which road I should travel? No. But I did have a very distinct impression that I could choose which way I wanted to go, and either way, everything would be okay.

Now, exactly what "everything will be okay" meant is a bit unclear to me (because very little of what's going on in my life fits the word "okay", as I would define it). All I can do is cling to the memory of an answer to a prayer, as I try not to hold my breath for too long, waiting for the answer to this one to come.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

April 8

It's 7:00 AM on Easter and I'm online, researching how to boil an egg.

True story.

I, the woman who can make cookies without a recipe, the girl who found a way to clone Trapper's Lemon Cream pie, the person who goes to potlucks and eats dishes other women bring with an intent to recreate and improve them...

I don't know how to boil an egg.

Thank heaven for my friend Google, who knows all things about all foods! Now, I'll be able to eat an egg salad sandwich for lunch. Easter will be Easter. Phew!

Friday, April 6, 2012

April 6

I had my first appointment with my new psychologist this afternoon.

Yup, you read that right. Just go ahead and add "psychologist" to the arsenal of MD Anderson doctors who've been assigned to my special case. At my last appointment with Dr. H (aka: Dr. Dreamy and the future Mr. Laurie Evans), we talked about my lack of sleep. While my sleep patterns have come a long way since mid-January, when I first found out that the cancer was back, they still leave something to be desired. Rather than prescribing a sleep-aid, the good doctor asked if I'd be interested in seeing the staff psychologist to learn some new coping skills. Always one who will happily discuss any and all deeply rooted emotional issues, I told him I had no problem with seeing the psychologist and to sign me right up.

Enter my first time being shrinked in over ten years.

And I'm pleased to report that it was completely and utterly pain-free.

I'd had some concerns that she'd be one more person who would see me crying and think that was a sign that I can't cope. (I can cope. I just happen to be a crier. I cope and I cry, folks. It's not an either/or situation with me.) She had absolutely no reaction to my on again/off again crying, bless her.

I wondered if she would allow me to blame the cancer for the current emotional upset and lack of sleep, or if she'd ask me questions about my family and eventually point fingers at my childhood to explain my inability to get more than 6 solid hours of sleep. I'm pleased to report that she is on board with blaming the cancer (oh, and multiple surgeries and radiation) for why I am tired almost all the time.

She asked all the right questions about how I feel, both physically and emotionally. She let me draw the line on how much info I wanted to give on my past and my personal life. She asked if there was anything in my faith that would prohibit therapy techniques like visualization and/or meditation, which I thought was interesting. (The answer to those questions would be no, of course. My religion may prevent me from drinking a fifth of whiskey as a coping mechanism, but I can totally meditate.)

The plan right now is to see her every two weeks. First, we'll work on getting me to go to bed - and hopefully fall asleep - earlier. She set a few new bedroom rules for me:

Be in my bedroom at 9 for quiet time
No TV watching in my bedroom
No computer in my bedroom
Snack time an hour before bedtime

Seriously, snacks have now been mandated. She recommended bananas and milk, specifically, as bedtime snacks. Apparently, they both have a high concentration of tryptophan (the stuff that's in turkey that makes us all take long naps on the third Thursday in November). My interpretation of her suggestion is that ice cream is an acceptable before bedtime snack and banana ice cream would be the best idea ever.

Too bad that it's almost midnight. I'm in my living room with the laptop in my lap, watching the TV while I blog. The only part of my new bedtime regimen that I was able to follow tonight was the ice cream snack. Oh, well. Tomorrow's another day, right?

Just call me Scarlett.

Anyhoo... tomorrow, I truly am going to make more of an effort to follow my new nighttime rules. I need to get more (and better) sleep.

After we focus on the sleep thing, she wants to retrain my brain to learn how to be happy in the moment. This is something that's already important to me, so I'm totally good with this plan.

About 45 minutes into the session, after we'd hashed through my medical past and some of the current events in my personal life, she recapped that she thinks we're dealing with some tendencies toward anxiety, repetitive thought patterns and insomnia. She started to add "situational depression", but smiled and corrected herself to "situational mood swings", and then went on to say "which is totally understandable and expected for someone in your situation". I'm a huge fan of her saying that I'm "wound a little tight" rather than "wow, you're a stress case".

Basically, the woman is blunt and direct, but she's very PC about it.

I like her. I'm not exactly sure where we're going or what we're doing, but she's not recommending that I drink hydrogen peroxide or that I eat baking soda by the spoonful, so I'm in. Also, I'm curious about the meditation and visualization therapies she brought up. I think this will be good.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April 1

It's April. Halle-freakin-lujah!

No kidding, I woke up this morning and my first thought was "I survived March. And it's over."

*Deep sigh*

Just typing that, I can feel a wave of relief wash over me. Last month was hard. There were some serious highs and some devastating lows.

In March:

I found out that my tumor hasn't grown. This is a tremendous blessing, in that I want to keep this puppy in me until the Fall, if I can. Having started a new job in September of last year, I need to clock a year of full time employment before I qualify for a medical leave. It is also a tremendous stressor, in that I have a tumor and I know it - and that is scary and not a fun thing to have to live with.

The widower came back into my life, and the widower went right back out of it. It was a crazy week full of emotional highs and lows, but (when I'm not wanting to run him over with my car) I am grateful for the insight he gave me. He helped me realize (and then remember) that the cancer I have is not worst-case scenario, and I'll always be grateful for that perspective.

I survived a week at work without Christian.

I signed a lease renewal. I know where I'll live for at least the next six months. It's not much, esp given that the reason I only signed a six month lease is that I have absolutely no idea what the next year will bring, but a six month lease was something I could control, and I'm all about controlling the few things that I can. (Please note: When I say "I have absolutely no idea what the next year will bring", I don't mean that I think I'll be dead in a year. I'm just being honest and admitting that I don't know where I'll be. I don't know if I'll still be plugging away at work. I dont know if I'll be recovering from surgery or figuring out how to live on disability. I just don't know. But I did feel like I could commit to six months, so I did.)

March was crazy. And now it's over.

Again, halle-freakin-lujah!

Hooray for a new month and new beginnings!