“I know a place where you can get cheap chemo.”
“What?!” I asked. My breast was being crushed by a cold, flat panel, my arm awkwardly flailed against the side of the machine, and the technician’s voice came from behind me, where she stood screened from the radiation, looking at images of my lump.
“It’s in San Francisco. I can get you the name of that place.”
Chemo? Me? I thought. I guess I have cancer. The air grew thicker, colder. Cancer.
It was New Year’s Eve, the earliest appointment I could get after my husband found a lump the size of an almond in my right breast. This lump wasn’t the squishy kind I found from time to time doing breast exams in the shower, the ones that made me wonder, but evaporated from my mind like steam out the bathroom window. This lump was hard as a nut, different. It didn’t vanish from my mind, but stayed firmly rooted, gnawing.
I saw a doctor the morning after that discovery, but she told me not to worry about it. “It doesn’t meet the characteristics of cancer,” she said.
Just to be on the safe side, I made an appointment for a mammogram. I remember dialing the phone from the parking lot of her office and taking the first available opening, which was on New Year’s Eve. Great, I thought, what a way to end the year.
In the intervening month between that morning and New Year’s Eve, I tried not to think about my lump even though, in my head, it grew bigger every day. When December 31 arrived, I donned the nasty thin robes they give you in hospitals and listened to the tech tell me things she wasn’t supposed to say.
That night, my family and I went to a party at a beautiful house on California’s biggest natural lake. All of us were dressed in holiday finery, having a great time, the mental replay of the day’s earlier experience barely creeping into my consciousness as my friend Paul passed around his signature pink cocktails.
Healthcare reform made insurance worthless
The next morning, Obamacare went into effect.
Poof! My family’s health insurance, the one we had for 20 years, was worthless. The new law attached a code to our policy number, and when administrators typed it into their systems, it spit back a message saying the insurance was invalid. I couldn’t get in to see a doctor.
Finally, an oncologist agreed to see me if I brought cash to the appointment. I handed him $300, and he told me that unless I got chemo immediately, I’d be dead in three months. He said the care I needed would be impossible for a normal family to pay, and by the time I fought through Obamacare’s red tape, it would be too late.
Miraculously, after fighting for treatment, I survived.
Now, there’s a new sheriff in town. President-elect Donald Trump says he’s going to repeal Obamacare. Believe me, I’m no fan of that policy, but I have to know what might replace it. How much will it cost? How will it work? Politicians who don’t have to use the healthcare policies they generate are tinkering with my survival again, and it makes me mad.
Just as I’m not likely to see Rep. Nancy Pelosi taking off her shoes in security lines at the airport, I’m not likely to see Donald Trump’s kid at a clinic where they take Obamacare or its replacement.
I was at such a facility once and my nurse yelled to a doctor three curtained-off patient stalls away that my strep test came back negative. I wondered why they made me complete a HIPPA form, the paperwork that supposedly safeguards patient privacy, when their doctors and nurses loudly discuss private information for all to hear. Thank God I didn’t have an STD test!
Before I became self-employed, I had cushy benefits at Fortune 500 firms. Those days are over, and now, as a self-employed entrepreneur, I slug it out with everyone else, or at least all of us without corporate, government or union coverage. Health insurance is our family’s biggest expense — higher than our mortgage, our car payments, our yacht club membership. Oh, wait, we’re not in a yacht club.
Only knowing true costs can control them
If I had my way, it would be illegal for any American to get healthcare benefits from an employer, lawmakers included. That radical idea would eliminate the class of people who pay unrealistically low co-pays, and as a nation, we’d get serious about how much healthcare costs.
I have friends who make a $5 co-pay for office visits and are oblivious to the real price.
Have you ever tried to learn the cost of a medical procedure up front? It’s impossible, the usual response being something like “Don’t worry; your insurance will cover it.”
Before chemo, when I got a port inserted into my chest, the attending asked if I wanted an Advil. Then he looked around. “They’re $13 dollars each if I order them for you,” he whispered. I popped two from a bottle that cost 16 bucks at Costco and calculated that my stash had a street value of $3,900.
Only when ordinary people have to pony up the true cost of their medical care will America finally get costs under control. Only when politicians have to use the healthcare program they create will it work for the rest of us.
But, I don’t see it happening any time soon.
In the meantime, I wish our politicians would consider people like me, collateral damage in the impersonal process of making laws. My family got screwed by Obamacare. Pardon the language, but it nearly killed me and it wiped our savings clean. It stuck my family with inferior insurance coverage at triple the cost of our old policy. And now, a new administration will start tinkering again.
I’m begging for mercy, shouting into the wind, hoping that wind will carry my wish to someone who can make a difference and cares enough to try.
Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.