2019 is not going as planned.
This year, my sweet Billy was supposed to retire, then we were supposed to sell our house here in east Texas and move closer to home in central Texas. By now, we were supposed to be watching our new home becoming a reality, and by late next month, we were supposed to be moving in.
Well, Billy retired April 8, and that’s as far as we got.
In March, my mammogram showed a suspicious lump not bigger than the nail-bed on my pinkie finger, and the biopsy proved it to be cancerous. The pathology report said it was ER positive and HER2 positive. If you’ve had breast cancer before, you might be familiar with these terms. The positive reading on the estrogen receptors isn’t too bad, but the HER2 protein being positive is scary. That’s what makes the type of cancer I have more aggressive. According to the pathology report after the lumpectomy in April, 15% of the cells were reproducing. HER2 positive cancer is invasive and can come back anywhere in the body.
Complication and frustration never-ending
The news wasn’t all bad at first. Good news is, HER2 positive cancer is treatable. And, according to the oncologist, my numbers are good: only an 8-14% chance this could return after radiation and five years on an estrogen blocking drug—meaning there’s a 86-92% chance it won’t return.
I took comfort in those words from my oncologist and thought I’d avoid chemo treatments, until I talked to the radiologist. She managed to scare me silly, reminding me this is the second time I’ve had breast cancer, which illustrates my body’s propensity to produce cancer cells. Oh, goodie. She indicated that chemo is a must for me: it’s either a 100% survival rate now or, within five years or so, talking about how much time I have left.
So now, I want the chemo, but—according to the oncologist—because of the severity of my Crohn’s disease, I can’t have it. Complications from Crohn’s nearly did me in twice already, and the chemo is almost guaranteed to cause a flare-up.
But there’s a med, Herceptin, that targets the HER2 protein. (Actually, there are several meds, but I think Herceptin is the newest.) It’s not a chemo drug, but it is administered along with a chemo, and that protocol—Herceptin + chemo—is approved by the FDC. Question is, will the insurance pay for Herceptin alone? My oncologist is trying to find out. Some insurances will. There’s a chance mine won’t, but we’re going to ask for an exception based on the Crohn’s problem. Trust me. This has been a slow process.
But that’s not all
Radiation is a definite must, along with a drug like Tamoxifen, which targets the hormone receptors (the ER part of the cancer). Neither does anything for any HER2 protein cells that might have escaped the lumpectomy, though, and since my margins weren’t clean afterward, this makes me nervous. But I still need to get the radiation. And, again, there are complications and frustrations.
Like I said, Billy retired in April and got on Medicare, leaving me alone on our insurance policy–which we got through his company, but now are paying for through COBRA. Our joint policy stopped at the end of April, so everything up to that point was covered and the deductible had been met. According to the powers that be, everything was supposed to ride along with me to my own insurance policy. Just a continuation, they said. But I got a new number and am not recognized in their system yet.
That means, #1, those who can find me in the system say that I haven’t paid anything toward the deductible, and #2, I can’t get approved for radiation because my account isn’t recognized.
Granted, the hospital is working with the insurance to fix the problem, but this is June and the cancer was discovered in March. I’m getting a tad antsy to start treatment.
What all this means to you
I’ve debated for months over just how public I wanted to make this news. It’s not like it’s a secret, really. I’ve told my street team and newsletter subscribers along with most of the folks I know personally. I don’t know why I haven’t announced it here, just as I have all the other challenges I’ve faced over the years. But making it public—this public—just didn’t feel right.
Then, it dawned on me. I have a message to spread. Get tested.
This post is about me and my breast cancer, and I imagine there are a whole lot of women out there ready to give me the secret pink-ribbon handshake into an exclusive club.
But cancer is evil. Any kind of cancer. Prostate cancer is just as deadly as breast cancer—and just as survivable if caught early. So is colon cancer. Ovarian cancer, cervical cancer. Many cancers are treatable now, but the secret is to catch them early. Get tested.
Here’s the deal: As frustrating as everything has been so far, I’m still in pretty good shape because we found the tumor early. It was tiny, and only a miniscule part of the margin showed up “not clear.” I have an 86-92% chance of the cancer not returning if all I do is take the pill and get radiation. That percentage improves considerably if I get some form of a Her2 protein-targeting drug. Herceptin isn’t the only one. If I can’t get that one, maybe I can get another.
Most folks don’t discover their problems while in the midst of doing retirement paperwork. Most folks don’t have to worry about whether their insurance will cover their treatment. Most folks don’t have other medical conditions that affect and complicate their treatment options.
In other words: Most folks aren’t like me and have fewer excuses–especially if they’re insured, because insurance usually pays for cancer screening. Get tested.
If you live in a human body, get tested.
Increase your odds of survival.
Schedule it today.