Thursday, April 27, 2017

Stepping Off the Edge of a Cliff


Today is my last day at work.

Over the years, I've changed jobs a lot, as IT workers frequently do. What you don't know about a potential employer's business always seems to be worth more than what you do know about your current employer's business. The money is always greener on the other side of the interview process.

This job change is different than all those past ones, though, because I'm not moving on to another IT job. Instead, I'm retiring so I can devote all my time to writing, with the intention of publishing a trilogy of paranormal romances early next year.

I'm really excited about the change. I've done all my homework and we can afford it. I'm really looking forward to having more time to write. But at the same time, it feels a little bit like I'm stepping off a cliff.

My work schedule provides structure for my life. Without that structure, how will I adapt? Will I start sleeping in and binge-watching TV? Will I let myself get sucked into volunteer work so there's no time to write? I have twelve grandkids. Just keeping up with soccer and choir concerts and Grandparents Days could be a full-time job.

I'm also a little concerned about my social life. I work with a great bunch of people--smart and kind and funny. They're always willing to follow me down a hypothetical trail as I consider what my protagonist might do next. Without those day-to-day interactions, will I be lonely? Am I even creative enough to plot a book without a lot of outside ideas?

My brush with breast cancer this winter was a sharp reminder that we don't live forever. If you really want to do do something, you have to have the courage to do it.

It's time to take that next step.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Your Call Is Very Important to Us

Over the weekend, I added up the medical bills I've received so far for my little bout with breast cancer. The total:$70,814.39

And this was for a Stage 1 tumor that required relatively little attention. I can't even imagine what the price tag looks like if you have chemotherapy and reconstruction.

My health insurance company negotiated for a reduced price. That total was substantially less, only $26,676.81.

If you live outside the U.S. and you've been wondering what the big deal is with having healthcare coverage here, that's a huge part of it. If you have health insurance, you're only responsible for the discounted figure (of which your insurance compay pays the lion's share). Sans insurance, you're on the hook for the whole $71K.

My out-of-pocket max, per the terms of my policy, is $5500.

Here's the kicker, though: if you overpay someone, it's like pulling teeth to get it back (and let's not even talk about the price tag for dental work, which falls under a whole separate policy). So it's important to stay on top of the bills you receive, match them up to the explanation of benefits forms you get from the insurance company and make sure everything lines up.

Because it won't.

Thus far, I've had the various players in this game:
  • Refuse to pay the $2400 bill for my biopsy not once, but twice.
    1. The first time was because they wanted me to prove I was really entitled to insurance through my husband's company--that I couldn't get it through my own job. (I can't. At work, I have to stay below 28 hours a week to ensure my employer isn't legally required to offer me health insurance. Which I happily do.)  (Two phone calls, a trip to my HR office and proof submitted--the exact same proof I'd submitted less than three months earlier when my husband put me on his policy.)
    2. The second time was because the insurance company said the procedure required pre-authorization and they hadn't received it. Three more phone calls.
    3. Still waiting on the outcome for that.

  • Lose track of my surgery pre-payment.  The day before my lumpectomy, the hospital called and wanted $681. I gave them a credit card and they recorded the payment against my account. For some reason, though, when I went in the next day, they opened a second account and put all the charges there.Three more phone calls to get those married up
  • Send me a bill for $175 worth of labwork. Still another phone call netted the information that the insurance company negotiated the $175 down to $44.85, which was part of my deductible. Another phone call--the lab said they never got that notification. We agreed I'd pay them $44.85 and send a copy of the EOB with my payment.


We're now up to 10 phones calls, a letter, an hour of your-call-is-very-important-to-us-so-we'll-play-tinny-tuneless-music-in-your-ear-until-you-give-up, and a sheaf of bills and EOBs (explanations of benefits) an inch thick.

And my illness was relatively minor. How do people manage all this if they're really sick?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Friendship Test

Saw this the other day on a friend's Facebook wall the other day:

I do not have a large number of friends.

Aww. I'm sorry. Hang out a while and you'll get more.

In fact, I do not accept some.

So it's not that you're a newbie. It's because you set high standards. That's cool.

I'm happy to have you, because you are among my friends.

Thanks! I  feel so special.

In addition, over time I've erased some, due to unacceptable behaviors.

Um, feeling a little threatened here.

Now I'm going to see who will read this post to the end.

I should probably admit I'm losing interest at this point. If you want me to read to the end, how about saying something interesting?

I'm curious to see who takes care of the bond that we have.

Okay, just for the record, we don't really have that much of a bond. We went to high school together--and we ran in different circles. Not that I don't like you, I'm just saying we really weren't that tight.

Thank you for being part of my life.

No problem.

Please do not share this post.

Um, you're pretty safe on that one.

This is a little test, just to see who reads and those who share without reading!

Granted, careless posts are a pain in the butt, but when did we decide we needed a test?

If you read everything, select 'like' and then copy and paste this to your profile...

Um, I don't want to.

...so I can put a comment.

You're setting a pretty high bar there for a comment, toots.

Then comment your favorite flavor of ice cream under my post.

Seriously? This is what this is all about? Ice cream? You should have led with that. I'm pretty sure you lost most of the ice cream crowd when you started getting all snooty and making demands.

So here's the deal. These "cut and paste this post to prove your friendship" leave me feeling the same way my high school boyfriend did when he had a test I needed to pass to prove my affection. I skipped that one and I think I'll skip this one, too.

And by the way--vanilla. Because you can add toppings to make it any flavor you want.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Chronicles of Breast Cancer Part 7--To Drug or Not to Drug

At a recent meeting of my Romance Writers chapter, one of the other members shared a story about a fellow member who writes really great sex scenes.

"She goes to a compounding pharmacy and has them make her up this cream that's a mix of estrogen and testosterone," she said."She rubs it on her arms and it puts her in the mood to write sexy."

Half of me had to applaud the woman's creativity and the sheer dedication to the craft. The other half was absolutely horrified. Adding a lot of extra hormones to your system, especially estrogen, is a recipe for breast cancer.

Is she insane?

The other writer shrugged. "You have to do something after menopause. Otherwise you wind up writing women's fiction."

(This cracked me up. The polarity between Dems and Republicans is nothing compared to the divide between romance and women's fiction writers.)

Fast forward three days and I met the third and final doctor in my triad of oncologists--my medical oncologist. (Not to be confused with my surgical oncologist or my radiation oncologist, each of whom sends a separate bill.)  Because my tumor was estrogen and progesterone receptive, he recommended I take a drug called Letrozole.

Since I'm post-menopausal, my ovaries no longer produce estrogen, but the adrenal glands that sit atop my kidneys still do. Letrozole binds itself to those estrogen molecules, preventing the hormone from making more tumors.

That's what it's being paid to do, anyway.

Unfortunately, it throws in some extra services for free:

1) Dizziness, drowsiness, weakness, fatigue (typically short-term)
2) Hot flashes
3) Constipation
4) Joint pain similar to arthritis
5) Weight gain
6) Vaginal dryness

That last one caught my attention.

If I took this drug I'd have to give up romance writing. Not that I dislike women's fiction. Done well, it's amazing stuff. Done poorly, it's just one more novel about recovering from breast cancer and/or dealing with widowhood.

I told the doctor I'd have to think about it.

The other morning, while I was walking the dog, I had an epiphany. If I refuse to take Letrozole because I don't want to give up writing romance, it's really no different than the writer who smears hormones on her forearms to get into the mood. Well, there's one difference. I know I'm at risk.

I think it's time to woman up and take my medicine.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Chronicles of Breast Cancer Part 6: Frankenboob



Now that everything is over, I am left with a breast that has:
  • A hole where they put in the balloon catheter
  • An incision that look a bit like railroad tracks in my armpit, where they took out the lymph nodes. 
  • A 3-inch, raised, purple scar where they removed the lump
  • Just beneath the big, purple scar, a noticeable divot.
  • Currently, a decidedly sunburned appearance where the radiation damage continues to surface.
There goes my dream of becoming a porn star.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Chronicles of Breast Cancer: Part 5--Glow in the Dark Fun

This week was all about radiation treatments. As you may recall from my last post, I decided to go with partial breast radiation, where they insert a balloon catheter into the site of the lump.

This is the kind of balloon catheter I had. You'll be glad to hear they did not insert it at 7 o'clock, more like 11. Under local anesthesia, so easy-peasy.

They put it in last Friday.I had to keep the site where it exited my body dry, so I wasn't able to shower,

Cat scan gantry from the inside

On Sunday night, Old Dog cut a neck-hole in a trash bag and had me put it on. He stripped down and got in the shower with me (this is what passes for kinky sex at our house) and washed my hair. Nothing like having clean hair to make you feel human again.


On Monday I started treatments. The treatments went like this: first step was a cat scan, so they could make sure there was no extra air or fluid surrounding the balloon. The scanner looked like this:


Lights whirled around that track, taking pictures from 360 degrees. Then the computer assembled them into a single picture that looked like this:



The stuff in white are my spine, my ribs and my scapula--and the balloon, of course. The black ovals are my lungs and the gray stuff in the middle is my heart. (Finally. Irrefutable proof.) It's a slice of me.

Then they took me into a lead-lined room (with an 8-inch thick door) and hooked me up to a machine called an After-Loader..

A thin wire pushed a radioactive isotope down one of those plastic tubes and into a channel on the balloon. My balloon had five channels, but we only used three. The other two were too close to my skin or my chest wall, and they didn't want to burn me.

The isotope stayed there for around 2 minutes (shorter time for brand new isotopes, longer if they've had time to decay). After three rounds,one for each channel, they redressed the wound and I went home, returning six hours later to do it again.

The box on the wall measured the amount of radiation in the room. I saw it get as high as 524.3, but I have no idea what that means.

Today was the last day. After my second treatment, they deflated the balloon and removed it.

And now this is all in the rearview mirror.




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Chronicles of Breast Cancer--Part 4--The Adventures of Senior Mutant Ninja Grandma

On Monday I started my 5-day whirlwind radiation therapy.

When you do radiation via a balloon catheter, you actually wind up being treated by a physicist rather than a physician. (There's a physician present. He just isn't very involved.) The physicist does the math to ensure you're getting the right dosage at the right location.

When my treatment, which lasted about 6 minutes, was done, my physicist brought out a rectangular brown metal box with a wand. He waved the little wand in front of my chest. It was silent.


I was entranced. "Is that a Geiger counter?"

It was.

Apparently, many, many years ago, back at the dawn of radiation treatment, there was an incident where they sent a patient back to the nursing home with the radioactive isotope still in their body and "people died." (Not "person," mind you, but "people.")

When I posted this picture on Facebook, a writer friend pointed out that all the great superheroes start with radiation--Spiderman, the Hulk, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

That got me to thinking: what would happen if the Geiger counter wasn't silent? What if the physicist waved his wand and that Geiger counter started chattering like a monkey whose banana has been stolen?

They'd remove the isotope, obviously, but not before suiting up in HazMat gear. (Because there would be dangerous levels of radiation in the room.) Meanwhile, radiation would continue leeching into me.

By the time they got the isotope out, irreversible changes would occur. I'd become Senior Mutant Ninja Grandma!

Which raises the question: what kind of superpowers does a Senior Mutant Ninja Grandma have?

Voiceover: Faster than a motorized shopping cart. More powerful than a Millenial protest song  Able to leap tall curbs at a single bound (of her walker).

This is why you don't see senior superheroes.

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