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Category: Cancer

My Life was Worth $75,121.33

Gee, thanks. Those "explanations" really cleared things up!

Gee, thanks. Those “explanations” really cleared things up!

I often tell people I had Cancer Lite. Gun to your head, you’d probably go with testicular. It’s not that I make light of my experience, as certain aspects of it were hell, but all things considered it was a very treatable form with a very high chance of cure / treatment / remission / whatever the hell I’m in now.

Two weeks ago Steven Brill was a guest on The Daily Show. He’s a journalist who recently wrote a cover story for Time magazine shedding light on the absurd health care costs in our country. My Kindle pegs most articles I read at 15-20 minutes long. This one? Over 90 minutes.

You need to read it. The opening paragraphs details Sean Recchi, a 42-year-old man with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who was charged $83,900 for procedures that only cost around $15,000. He paid $1.50 for a single generic Tylenol. It cost him $283 for chest x-rays that Medicare patients get done for $20.44. The list goes on and on (and on and on and on and on.)

The article got me thinking about my own foray into the health care industry. To be completely fair, I had health insurance that didn’t try to screw me, by which I mean they upheld the agreement we made when I read the fine print and signed on the dotted line in 2009. Maybe I lucked out and got one of the good ones, maybe my insanely high yearly deductible was enough to satisfy them, or maybe it’s because they were happy to have an excuse to jack my premiums every year since (which they have.)

In 2010 I discovered the lump, had outpatient surgery to remove it, and there were a few doctor visits before and after both events. In 2011 I had monthly checkups, each taking around 15 minutes of “doctor time,” in addition to standard monthly blood tests, quarterly chest x-rays, and a few CT scans. Those led to discovering the tumors, which led to thirteen weeks of chemotherapy. Although if I recall correctly, I was only in the hospital for a total of 22 sessions, ranging from four to six hours each. In 2012 I was back to periodic exams and basic tests. The cost? Just over $75,000. And it’s not over yet.

Remember, this is Cancer Lite we’re talking about here. It wasn’t non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or even stage III testicular cancer. Had I not had health insurance, I might not be bankrupt, but I’d be seriously fucked financially.

The quality of health care in this country is outstanding. I’m a living testament to it and not many people are trying to argue otherwise. But the health care industry? It’s fucked. It’s beyond fucked. There’s a reason every other industrialized nation in the world, and even half of the third world countries like Cuba, look at what we’ve set up here in the states and shake their heads.

Now how about we do something about it?

Chemotherapy And You!

Originally drafted on July 16, 2011. This is part of a new series where I clean out my Drafts folder.

Smile. Big and often. It’s your best defense around the swirl of death and depression. Remind yourself that you’re young, relatively fit, and survived dozens of idiotic activities as a kid that should have killed you many times over.

Find something to do. Reading sounds fun, but it’s hard to follow the words. Same with movies. Never underestimate sleep. But the real treats are in comedy albums. The laughter helps. Music is great as well. Shuffling through albums you haven’t listened to in years is always enjoyable. Try to find something new though. An anthem makes all the difference in the world and it’ll be yours forever.

Learn the nurses names. Learn which know how to put in a needle and which are receptive to your charm. Realize how lacking you truly are in the charms department.

Don’t eat your favorite foods. Don’t even think about them. The last thing you want to do is pick up a peanut butter & jelly sandwich 10 years later and put it down because it still reminds you of throwing up. Don’t try to eat healthy either. You’re already going through hell, why exacerbate it with vegetables? Eat whatever calories you can shove down and move on.

On a personal note, Kale can go fuck itself. It holds a special place in Hell along with Quiche now.

Don’t be a bitch. Accept help when needed and don’t be afraid to ask, but find goals to accomplish for yourself. It’s amazing how empowering it can feel to do your own laundry or drive yourself to and from chemo every day. You can’t do everything alone though. Lean on your friends and family. If you don’t have any, get in touch.

Keep your head up. You got this shit.

Treatment

xkcd posted this while I was going through chemo. I found it oddly comforting.

Hey Cancer. Eat It.

I asked my Oncologist if “the R word” applied to me yet. He thought I was asking if I was retarded.

My brain has always worked faster than my mouth. In a debate, I always end up shooting myself in the foot by stumbling over my tongue. That’s why I enjoy writing. To hell with making your point on the first try, in real time no less! My typical method for an article is to pound it out all at once, edit, re-edit, wait a few hours, edit some more, wait a few days, edit some more, and finally force myself to publish the damn thing before I end up rewriting every word.

I took the exact opposite approach with this post.

I didn’t want to type anything before I knew for certain because I’m superstitious inasmuch as I can jinx myself. It happens every time. I’m winning in a game? Trash talk seals my opponents crazy comeback. I mention it’s nice the plane is taking off on time? We stop halfway down the runway due to a broken flimflark. So the thought of writing this post ahead of time felt like an unnecessary tempting of fate I couldn’t afford.

Luckily yesterday my doctor said I’m officially in remission. He went on to say I’m not cured, obviously, and it could come back at any moment but I had kind of tuned him out by that point. My tumors were gone! All that self-groping hadn’t been in vain!

I plan on telling this individually to all my friends and family members, but until then, I just wanted to proclaim a public “rock the fuck on” to them. The support of Hiffers was fantastic, but I don’t want to ever make it sound like I was in this alone. Those around me stepped up their game and were simply awesome throughout this whole ordeal. I couldn’t have done it without them and I hope they know how much I appreciated their support.

Now, onto the next challenge life throws my way. Hopefully this one doesn’t involve boatloads of poison.

On The Other Side

I miss the dreams. That’s more than I thought I would.

I finished my last round of chemo a few weeks ago. I’m still in the “sit around twiddling your thumbs while we make sure everything worked” stage. It’s fantastic. Wait. I think I misspelled that. It’s fucking frustrating.

To be honest, I spent most of last month focusing on little battles that I didn’t realize I cared about. Being forced to eat with plastic utensils wasn’t a burden until I found that metal spoons didn’t ruin my cereal anymore. Suddenly the extra 15 seconds I saved in not rooting for a plastic spoon was precious.

One of the more recent battles I think I’ve won is with my hair. Not on my head – that I couldn’t care less about. With my family, it’s a given that I’ll be bald in a decade. No, what suddenly had me worried over the past few weeks was whether or not my facial hair would come back in full strength. I don’t have a lot of skills. I excel at making puns. I’m kind of flexible due to my gangliness. And I can grow a badass beard. I haven’t had one in a few years, but knowing that it was an option every morning was something that I didn’t realize I’d ever miss.

Yet here I was, as recently as last week, waking up every morning with peach fuzz that any 12 year old could beat. My state of excessive body hair could fill a post of its own. And, geez, the places where I lost hair vs. retained it … I still don’t get it. There are long strips down my leg where it’s hair, no hair, hair, no hair. I look like I tried shaving racing stripes onto my body.

But guess what. I woke up on Thursday with black, glorious stubble under my nose. That’s the spot that held out the longest when I was losing it and I love the idea of it leading the charge back. In a world where its only claim to fame is the Hitler mustache, it’s nice to see it get a little love.

Obviously most of these have been things I’ve missed from “before.” In the grand scheme of things, they weren’t important. But I never thought I’d miss something from during the chemo. They finally vanished a few weeks ago. I knew it was going to happen, I’d figured out where they were coming from and could see them fading away like they do every morning. I’m just happy I was at least able to experience them for two months.

Because I’m such a nerd, I have a dream journal from 2004. I dream fairly regularly and remember a fair bit, but for the most part they’re uneventful nothing dreams. As such, I only take the time to write down in vivid detail those dreams that knock you on your ass. The ones that make you wish more than anything that you were back in them and, if you’re not careful, threaten to send you into a tailspin of nostalgia for something that never existed and depression for what does.

July and August of this year almost doubled the total number of entries in my journal.

They were fucking phenomenal. Each and every one of them. Even the nightmares! I’d wake up, often in a sheen of sweat from the terror or adrenaline, and know that if I could just will myself back to sleep, I’d probably fall back into some equally crazy scenario. I was exhausted for much of my treatment. I know a lot of it came from the physical aspect of the drugs, but another factor was that I couldn’t stay asleep most nights. I’d wake up feeling as if I hadn’t slept a wink and it wasn’t until two weeks into the treatment that I realized I was waking up so frequently because of all the dreaming. Suddenly, I didn’t care about the exhaustion.

Because I’m such a super nerd, I began meticulously tracking my days. Did the dreams coincide with my treatment? Sudden change in diet? Flower-scented aroma candles I’d boug…had given to me? It didn’t take long to pinpoint the culprit (or hero, in my eyes): my anti-nausea medication. Just to be certain it wasn’t somehow the nausea itself, I even went five days without taking any meds and powered through the discomfort. It was the longest stretch where I didn’t dream during the entire two months.

All of the prescriptions are refillable through November. Any medical professionals or parents might want to turn away now, and kids, don’t abuse drugs. But I’m sorry. Those dreams were something magical.

Fuck it, I’m not sorry. I’ve earned them. Here’s to some crazy dreams tonight.

I Don’t Want To Be What I Eat

Well that little streak didn’t last long! I don’t know why in the world I picked last week of all weeks to start that little experiment, but whatever.

Most of my focus lately has been between sleeping and eating. My sudden rash of insomnia has been a strange experience, as I can’t recall ever having trouble sleeping in the past. I’m the character who wakes up 30 minutes into an alien blockbuster wondering where everyone went and why the world is a smoldering ruin. So you can imagine the fun I had last night as I watched a Frontline and Sesame Street double feature at 5am.

It’s the food that’s really getting to me though. My God, my tongue has the permanent texture of sandpapper dipped in cat litter. I never was one to eat much fast food and yet I find that the only things I can handle are ones that are over-salted, sweetened, or both. The irony that I’m looking forward to getting better so that I can stomach more vegetables certainly isn’t missed on me. At least I can still manage to keep down fruit.

I see there’s a three hour telethon about to start on PBS. Might as well get in at the start.

I Still Hate Needles

Tomorrow marks the end of one of my self-described Hell Weeks – chemo every day of the week for five hours. And I swear, I’m not complaining. Had I popped out 100 years ago, they’d be leaching me or dosing me up with mercury.

But this shit gets old fast.

Aight, less cancer crap over the next few days. I promise.

Luckily There Are Some Cute Nurses

So I’ve got cancer.

Well, I’ve actually had cancer for nine months now. Ten months? I don’t know. Math was never my strong suit. You’d think I’d better remember when I first had surgery, but it’s baseball season. I’ve got more important things to keep track of.

Things didn’t get too serious until last month when, during a routine visit, my doctor said “so yeah, get ready for chemo. Your cancer is a little bitch.” I’m paraphrasing.

Thus began lots of chemotherapy. I’m four weeks in and luckily it’s one of those good cancers. Stage II Testicular Cancer is fairly curable, plus I get the bonus perk of talking about my junk with complete strangers. But I felt like I needed to say something, otherwise the jokes that are soon to follow on Twitter and Facebook might seem a little out of left field.

In the mean time, if you want to help out, say a few extra stupid jokes today in my name. Trust me, I can sense them.

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