1987 -- chemo, hair, insurance and going on


It almost seems absurd to tell you that chemotherapy was terrible. But I have come to find out that it isn't for many people. Particularly today with the great drugs that keep nausea and vomiting under control. It's not unusual for cancer patients to have chemo and take a day off and then go back to work.Well, chemotherapy was one of the worst things I have ever experienced. What the chemicals do to your body at the time is bad enough, and now we are learning that the drugs are the gift that keeps on giving for about 20 percent of us who have late effects. There is no way to prove the neuropathy in my feet is a late effect, but when it showed up 14 years after my treatment, I had no explanation. I have learned how to manage it and live with chronic pain.As I pointed out in yesterday's blog, I could not believe that I could throw up for 24 hours and then weigh in at the oncology office and have gained a pound. For those of you who have battled your weight like I have, the idea of losing a few pounds was an end result I was counting on -- and one I felt like I deserved.So, when it was clear that wasn't going to happen, I faced my oncologist. "How can I possibly be gaining weight when I am throwing up all the time?" I asked as he looked down at my file at the start of our meeting. He started to answer, "Well, Kathy you gain weight when you take in more calories than you expend..." He stopped there. I am convinced he could feel the energy in the room that said to him, "people who think they are dying are not averse to murder." When he looked over the top of the file, I was glaring at him. "We don't know," he finally said, but it seems to be fairly consistent. Finally, I got him to admit there was something he didn't' know. Of course, now I know that there is a lot oncologists don't know – but they do their best.I was so sick my oncologist cut my dosage. I also had a few other lovely side effects such as a really bad case of oral mucositis, the mouth blisters that required I walk around with a mouth full of liquid Novocain. And, of course, I was bald.Let's talk hair for a minute, since that is one thing that has not changed in 26 years. With few exceptions, most cancer drugs cause hair loss.But since 1986 there is one aspect of breast cancer that has improved by leaps and bounds, as they say, and that is wigs.After my husband Tom shaved my head around Thanksgiving, I started wearing wigs. I bought three. One for the person I thought I looked like, one for who I wanted to look like and then one that was the easiest to wear, a curly one that I could shake out and put on every morning with little fuss. They all looked like wigs and had three times the hair that most humans have. A word here about my husband (now "wasband" ) Tom. He was great and with me every step of the way. Our divorce in 1999 had to do with things other than breast cancer, I think. But I would have to look at that closer because I have come to find out that everything in my life from the day I was diagnosed has been influenced by cancer and the feelings of mortality it brings.As I lay in bed during chemotherapy, Tom managed a 14-month old, a job and our other four children from his first marriage, who were in varying forms of adolesence. Did I mention that I didn't have time to have cancer.Aside from feeling like I was possessed during the week I got chemo, I was able to do a little freelance work and try to remain active. Then I got a call from a former college professor of mine at Southern Methodist University who asked if I wanted to become an adjunct writing teacher in communications.It was a true gift from spirit because instead of thinking about dying and how Kirtley would get through adolescence without me, I could focus on college sophomores learning how to put two m's in accommodate. I only missed one class when I had my last chemo and because I wasn't teaching a full load, I could rest a lot.By the end of the spring semester in 1987, I was getting a little hair and a little energy and was thrilled when SMU offered me a full time job teaching writing. It also worked out well for insurance. Because of a fluke, my cancer was well covered. Before Kirtley was born I had never filled out an insurance claim. I thought I knew how to read an insurance policy, but soon learned that the fine print can get you in a lot of trouble, i.e. the anesthesiologist is covered up to $xxx, not to exceed $xxx. Well I didn't have a clue how much an anesthesiologist charged then. I had to give the hospital a credit card for the $10,000 bill to get my daughter out of the hospital.This prompted me to finally learn how to "really" read an insurance policy. Tom was consulting and I was being a mom, so I needed one that we could afford. I found one that was good coverage and had a $1,000 deductible after which it paid 100 percent. So, my cancer was covered except for $1,000. The catch was that when it came time to renew the policy in August of 1987, they tripled our premium so that we could no longer afford it. Insurance at my job at SMU kicked in that month so we were insured just in time. Thanks SMU. I was so ready to get back to normal, but when I looked around for it, I found that it no longer existed. My paradigm had more than shifted, it had been tossed out the window. Tomorrow, finding normal.

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