Tag Archives: breast cancer awareness

Thank goodness for healthcare

I am pausing from pre-Christmas prepping – which for me is a VERY fun marathon and sprint and 5K rolled into one – to complain just a little.

These days everyone has a position on healthcare – or at least on Obamacare. I try to be apolitical online and will refrain from too much proselytizing BUT I just got my statement of account – count it the thirty third – as related to my reconstruction adjustment end of August. So, to clarify, this is one bill, from one procedure. (I counted recently that I have had 8 surgical procedures thus far with the big C – this was #8)

For those of you who have been playing at home, I popped a stitch out of my radiated reconstructed left boob while cruising the lazy river with my family and friends. Because of the fear of infection from the oh-so-clear Hyatt Lost Pines pool I had emergency surgery on August 21st. Today I got a bill from Seton – the hospital where I went for aforementioned surgery.

The bill says patient name: Ward, Lauren. Statement date: 11/28/13, admit date: 8/21/13 (only 3 months behind – if I ran my family finances that way?? really??)

Discharge date: NONE. Meaning I didn’t stay the night. At all. Important for what comes next.

Total charges: $23,687.75

I’m sorry, but WTF? I was in an operating room for an hour, woke up in the room next door an hour later and it’s more than a car?

AHHH but it gets better:

Previous Balance $4576.12 – which implies that A – I either owe the hospital more than we pay for five people to go on vacation for a week AND DIDN’T KNOW IT or B – that I have received sufficient bills from aforementioned hospital that I just ignore them at this point and/or C – they are just making this SH(&T up as they go.

Now transaction dates and description

9/10/13 HMO ADJ – A      $18,198.62

9/10/13 HMO ADJ – A     -$18261.97

9/20/13 I99/Aetna(178209)    $.00

9/27/13 I99/Aetna(178209)    -$4,278.19

I have no idea what any of that means. Literally, figuratively, completely. Other than another really?! How mixed up are we that someone who is or was seriously sick now has to decipher a bill that looks like the WWII Enigma code books in Henry’s history project?

I recognize adj as either adjective or adjustment. Which do you think? Aetna – thank god for Aetna – is also familiar. Though I’m not sure what any of that means. Listed twice. Some positive. And with SUCH precision. AND ninety seven cents. Because that last cotton ball was two extra cents.

Then at the bottom with a big blue arrow: PLEASE PAY THIS AMOUNT: $238.68

I can’t really describe how I feel – frustrated that I have no idea what any of this means. Happy that we have this money in the bank and I can pay it. Pissed that I have to pay for something that was completely NOT my fault at all on so many levels. Sad that others receive these bills and can’t pay for it. Relieved and exhausted by reading the entire bill so that the final total seems like – WHEW dodged a bullet there.

Maybe that’s the strategy – overwhelm with paperwork, bills, numbers and codes. When did healthcare become so unhealthy?

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Because There’s Nothing to Complain About

I had a friend tell me during chemo that the zen-like attitude I had during treatment – I thought primarily induced through fatigue, sleep-laced anti nausea medicine and a general sense of heaviness – would stay with me. I didn’t believe her. BUT it’s true. I have mentioned it before, things don’t bother me as much. But I still complain – I just catch myself earlier. And I notice it in others.

Take this weekend. We had a fantastic weekend – jam packed with Texas traditions and silliness. On Friday night we attended a Chicken SH*&! Bingo party where you pay $1 to predict where the chicken will SH#@! We dressed as Texas trash. The hilarity was in me trying to not sound racially/economically/politically insensitive when trying to determine how to dress up. I ended up as Daisy Duke and Davis wore an A&M shirt with camo sweats. We had beers – I totally embarrassed myself by not knowing how to operate one – and banana pudding and NO we didn’t win but we ate lots of wings in retaliation.

I could have gotten uber upset when my amazing husband decided at 4.30 to go shopping for the next days campout. And took over an hour. Or when Emmy decided that she “couldn’t breathe” and it turned out she was making herself so upset she couldn’t catch her breath. And there was the rising tide of frustration. But, it went away. I realized my hubby is remarkable for pitching in on the cooking on the campout and Emmy inherited a super strong sense of empathy.

The next morning, we had soccer. At 8am. After beers and parties and Davis staying up late to make homemade sloppy joes. At what seemed an ungodly hour, I awoke and peered over to realize that it was already 7am. I was supposed to be at the soccer field at 7.30 to line them.

I could have gotten upset because HOW the BLEEP would we get out of the house in 15 minutes?? Even though Carter slept in his soccer uniform?? But I threw food at the kids, pushed them into their soccer clothes and texted the other coach. I got there and guess what – the field was already lined. With my mocha in hand, I coached my team to a hard fought awesomely close game with Davis in charge of the 5 minute subouts.

Wew came home to pack the swagger wagon to the gills for Davis and Henry’s first campout. The rest of us were going to spend the day at Cub O Ree swimming, playing, doing activities, etc. Of course we get there, no signage, wander around for what seems like 2 miles until we find the campsite. Carter immediately steps in a fire ant mound (I would later count 16 bites) and Davis had to set up the tent because there was imminent rain.

SO I took the three kids to the activities – which turned out to be a handful of amazing things – rock climbing! archery! BB guns! that had lines over an hour – and a handful of carnival type games that took 5 minutes. We traipsed all over, having forgotten water bottles – but the kids did great. I heard parent after parent snapping at their kids – go faster! stop complaining! Instead we laughed when it rained so hard it washed our sweat off and stole plastic cups from the archery range.

Oh, and then I go tthe car stuck in the mud. Hilarously, it was probably the best place on the planet to get stuck. All these adult boy scouts running around fighting over who was going to tow me out and teaching each other how to tie a bowlon tie with a fie hose – who has a pocket knife? You don’t? Then of course we had to take the car through the car wash while it was raining to get all the mud off. Did I mention it was Davis’ car?

I realize I’m not perfect, I’m going to lose my cool – and I do. But I realize it so much earlier, especially with the kids. And the fact that in comparison, the fact that I was able to hike 2 miles in 95 degree weather is astounding. The fact that I had enough hair to get wet and sweaty is awesome. There really is nothing to complain about.

POSTSCRIPT

I am raising money this month for the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Austin – home of my beloved Pink Ribbon Cowgirl friends and treatment buddies, as well as my amazing patient navigator Runi and the other amazing resources – wigs! tote bags! free yoga!

This month, you will have a lot of chances to give pink – but think about where you are giving your money. If you support BCRC 100% of the money goes to service their over 2600 clients in Central Texas. I am a client. And, in return, we have a few personal goals – I will dye my hair pink if I reach my first goal … Davis will wear a pink art bra if I reach my second goal … and he and I will walk the runway in matching bras Oct 29th if I reach my new goal. I am expecting big things. I get prizes for most supporters, most money raised, most unique donors, etc. Bring it on!

https://bcrc.fundly.com/team-ward-pink

 

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A Pink Ribbon in my Pocket

There’s a Girl Scout song I learned long ago about having a great big brownie smile in my pocket. It always struck me as funny – a smile in your pocket? That’s like having a blink in your shoe. But after this past week, I realize the symbolism as the song played over and over in my head on our vacation.

We went on a Disney cruise – and for those of you interested in the details, I have made a full post here (Disney cruise thoughts) … but for the rest of you, suffice it to say it was magical and exhausting. Somewhere around the second day at sea – when I had gotten dressed up formal in a sassy red number – and after I ran barefoot up five flights of stairs to retrieve our autograph book because we happened across Minnie Mouse in her formal wear in a lounge – I said to myself, I have a smile in my pocket.

Then the next day we went SCUBA diving in Grand Cayman – Davis and I. Now we fibbed a little and told them we had been diving “recently” – it had been nine years for me  since our first wedding anniversary in Belize. I was so nervous on the boat ride out I probably burned a full day of adrenaline. Then we had to do one of those “giant step” entries which always scares the beejesus out of me. I was the last one off the boat. Davis gave me a double high five. Then we held hands.I descended to a too-deep level of 90 feet accidentally because I was having so much fun. No wetsuit! Tons of fish! And, my swim boobs worked!

After we surfaced for air after the first dive, the smile was no longer in my pocket. I was grinning like a crazy person. I just wanted to yell out to everyone on the dive boat – do you realize what I was doing a month ago? Two months ago? Six months ago? Do you know I have swim boobs on? (From then on when I would get ready to go in the water I thought of myself as the SS Lauren strapping on the ladies)

It was the first time I had been in a really large group for a long time – being a “normal” person all day every day where no one knew my story. No one ever looked at me twice – except for the nice meaning Disney guest services lady who asked why I cut my hair – and then recovered by saying I looked like a supermodel. I was so impressed with myself in general. Apart from the fact that I went to bed with the twins, and took a nap or two (who wouldn’t!) I felt like myself again.

But, there is also some resentment. I look around all these normal people and want to shake them – do you know how good you have it? do you know how hard I’ve worked to get here? I also realize that other people probably have something in their pocket – maybe not a smile, maybe a story, maybe a challenge they too have overcome. Maybe not.

For now, our entire family is aglow with happiness – though the trip was not as relaxing as we had planned, it was far more magical and the children are blissful. Ultimately what more could we wish, and what more could we celebrate in this season of thanks.

PS I will try to upload some of the video and link to it – a man on the boat with us took a video and mailed it to us!

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The Controversy around Breast Cancer Awareness Month

This month we head into pink-ageddon. Everything will be pink – yogurt cups, beers, football gloves, socks, purses and balloons. Interestingly, in the actual breast cancer community there is sharp division about whether the corporate takeover of awareness is a good thing. Many of my survivor friends turn three shades of hot pink when asked their opinion – they hate it. It’s a manipulation of the true message, a way to cash in on loved ones lost, and the money goes crazy places – if it goes anywhere at all.

In years past I saved my yogurt lids and made a choice to buy the pink packaging if it was offered, but I didn’t know the consequences of my choices or the real message of October. This is about awareness – and frankly, I too believe the real message has been lost. October should be about bringing awareness to women about this disease. Awareness to my generation who remains virtually ignorant to the fact that it can impact us. And, it should bring awareness of the remarkable strides that medicine and doctors have made. (Some survivors will dispute that – I tell you, this is a fraught topic).

I think we all agree that there is an issue with corporations profiting off a disease. A movie was just screened here in Austin called Pink Ribbons Inc – a documentary on the disparity between profits and donations and the true message lost. To that end if you are going to make choices this year on donations and purchases, make sure that there is an actual organization designated.

This year, and forward, my money and time will go to two organizations that made a dramatic difference in my attitude, support, and care: one is the Breast Cancer Resource Center here in Austin, TX which is the home of the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls. My young survivor network of over 500 women. They have been my Q&A group, my friends that I talk to about things I don’t even put on the blog, and the organization that provides Austin with individual, amazing support.

Here is their donation page: https://secure.commonground.convio.com/bcrc/october2012/

The other organization which you will hear more about is the Duke Cancer Institute. I am clearly biased (alma mater and all) but they are trying to create disruptive therapies – funding truly cutting edge young research on this disease. You will see much more as I become their first Alumni Ambassador – attending Board meetings and speaking there next year, as well as becoming part of their support community – as founder of the Blue Devils Vs Cancer alumni organization.

Here is their donation page: http://dukecancerfund.org/get-involved/

More than that, I think my new mission is also to educate and empower my generation about this disease. It is curable – especially if caught early. It is detectable using mammograms and thermography and ultrasound. Here’s what else you should know:

About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. However, breast cancer can strike at any age, and is the most common cause of death in women aged 35 to 54. The number of young women who are diagnosed with breast cancer is on the rise, with scientists unsure of the cause.

Most importantly – you need to get to know your breasts. Usually, the first noticeable symptom is a lump that feels different from the rest of your breast tissue. More than 80% of breast cancer cases are discovered by touch, by you or your doctor. You need to get to know your breasts in circular motions, horizontal and vertical. And don’t be afraid to palpate deep—many breast cancers are close to the chest wall.

You also need to feel under your arms—lumps found in lymph nodes in the armpitscan indicate breast cancer. Other symptoms include density changes, one breast becoming larger or lower, a nipple changing position or shape, or swelling around the collarbone. If you have any of this—regardless of your age—get to a doctor and discuss it.

I never was a pink girl really, but now I’m proud to wear pink ribbons, bracelets, T-shirts, and hats. Don’t just think pink this October, do pink. And recognize and respect the true meaning of the month.

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