Tag Archive | health insurance

Weekly Photo Challenge: “The Sign Says” I Have Cancer

breast cancer thirties 30's 30s young

*WARNING:  The last image on this page is pretty disturbing — and gross — so be careful as you scroll down the page if you don’t want to see it.*

I am writing this post in response to The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge topic “Signs.”

While I know this isn’t what Sara at The Daily Post had in mind, taking the post in this direction is what feels right to me.  Rather than compiling a handful of hysterical sign photos (I do have a few!), I have decided to abandon my first inclination and leave funny at the doorstep.  Instead of happy and light, I’ve opted to share a few photos that capture my physical state just months before my diagnosis of Stage 3C breast cancer.

Now, before you run off in the other direction, I’ll tell you that I won’t go as far as posting photos of my breast with its visible lumps.  But I will post more benign shots that really were not benign.

I was 33 in these photos and had lost about 10 – 15 pounds without changing my eating or exercising habits [I didn’t exercise].  It may not show, but I was thoroughly and completely exhausted.  I had been tired before, but this was the first time I would hit a wall where I couldn’t, regardless of how hard I tried, force myself to keep going.

I was so sick.

I had infection after infection.  Bronchitis.  Pneumonia.  Eye infections.  Etc.  Etc.

My lymph nodes were swollen.

My skin was dull and grey.  I was breaking out in rashes and developed acne-like bumps.  I had sores in and on my mouth.  My lips were peeling and cracked, swollen and often bloody.

I had been growing my hair for ages so I could again donate to Locks of Love, an organization that provides wigs for kids going through cancer and chemo (and other serious illnesses). But I was afraid they wouldn’t accept it this time because it was so dry, dull and lifeless.  And it was falling out.

And I was falling.  On one of the occasions when I blacked out and fell down the stairs, I hit my back and head so hard that I ended up in the emergency room.

I was experiencing a constant tingling throughout my left breast, similar to the “let-down” feeling I remembered from nursing my twin boys.  But the pain in the breast, from the surface to somewhere deep inside my chest was just as concerning.  The pain in my armpit was also making me wonder.

And there was more.  But why bore you with the details?

I knew something was gravely wrong.  And I knew that if I didn’t find out what it was soon, it would kill me.

And I was right.

While these photos are not pretty or well done, they are real.  They may not look like much if you didn’t know me before all of this, but for me these photos illustrate clear signs that cancer had engulfed my breast and lymph nodes and that it was trying to go further.  I just wish I had recognized them for what they were.  I wish I had paid attention to the signs sooner.

breast cancer thirties 30's 30s young

IMG_20130605_014307

IMG_20130605_014032

IMG_20130605_015648

The two photos that follow were taken on Christmas Day, 2009, just under 4 months before my diagnosis.  I was so ill and had been for a while.  And other than pneumonia and very swollen and sore lymph nodes and these recurrent infections in my mucous membranes, etc., no one knew what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t leave these infections and illnesses behind.  These were two of the rare photos I was in that Christmas:

breast cancer thirties 30's 30s death illness young photos

Just a warning:  the disturbing photo is coming after the photo below.  Last chance to turn back!

breast cancer thirties 30's 30s infections young illness death stage 3c

You probably thought I would share a photo of my breast or axillary lymph nodes here, but I promised I wouldn’t do that to you!  The disturbing photo I am sharing is of my eye, my skin, and my swollen (and bloody — though you can’t see the blood here) lips.  Both of my eyes looked like this quite often near the end.  They were as painful as they looked and were infected over and over again.  I knew something was seriously wrong with me because this wasn’t normal.  But no one sought to get to the bottom of my symptoms — I’m sure having no insurance at the time had something to do with this lack of action.

breast cancer thirties 30's 30s young eye infection infections red bloodshot lips

Thanks for making it to the end.  Even though this photo montage isn’t pretty, I think it is important to my story and I appreciate everyone who was willing to see it through.

And I promise that the next photo challenge post I do will be filled with beautiful images of people or places I hold dear…

If you’d like to participate in The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge, just click here.

April 7, 2010 — Pink Bunny Cupcakes & Good Samaritans

This Sunday we celebrated Easter.  I’ve often heard it referred to as a time of renewal.  I think I will remember Easter this year as a time when my faith in human beings was renewed.

On Monday I called to the breast center where I had the mammogram a few years ago and told them that I was having trouble getting a referral for my breast lumps.  My call was transferred until I reached a woman who told me that I could go to a local health clinic that helps uninsured and underinsured people receive basic medical care.  For just $5 – $15, I could receive a manual breast exam.  I immediately called and scheduled the appointment.

I just returned home after a whirlwind visit to the health clinic.  First off, I have to say that it is staffed by remarkable people.  They squeezed me in at the end of the day, so I was the only patient when I arrived.  With no wait, I was brought back to be examined.  It wasn’t long before I was told that I would need a diagnostic appointment at a breast center.

Sensing my concern, the nurse told me that they would find a way to help me with the fees.  Fortunately, there are programs to help women in need receive free mammograms.  Unfortunately, these programs don’t exist—at least in our area—for women under 40.

They told me not to worry, though, and said they would do what they could to help me get taken care of.  The rest of my appointment was spent signing papers and waiting as they assembled and faxed paperwork to a program—Cancer Services (formerly the Women’s Health Partnership)—that pays for diagnostic exams for uninsured men and women with (suspected?) breast, cervical or prostate cancer.  They said that because of my age, they would need to complete extra paperwork, affidavit(s), etc. and then get them sent over right away to make a plea for help with the diagnostic appointment.

It was after 5 p.m. and they were working collectively and without complaint to coordinate everything for me.  How surprising it was not to hear “call back tomorrow” or “we’re closed” or “we can’t help you”.  I didn’t even have to ask and here they were doing their best to rally for me.  So refreshing and heartwarming, especially after the past week.

When I left, they hugged me and said they would do their best to help get me in to the breast care center where I had been seen for my past lumps.  So now I wait…  But I am waiting with a renewed faith in the medical community—or at least in the volunteer medical community.

[Because I love baking and decorating cakes and cupcakes, I thought I would leave you with some photos of the cupcakes I brought to Easter at my sister’s on Sunday…  Thanks for reading…]

April 1, 2010 – Only One Pink Line

My breast has been leaking fluid—now enough to wet the inside of my bra cup.  At first I wasn’t too alarmed, but the amount is increasing.  I did buy three more pregnancy tests from the dollar store, just to be sure.  I took the final test this morning.  When I saw only one pink line again, my heart sank.

If I’m not pregnant, there is definitely something wrong.  The fluid is translucent and pale yellow/brown.  If I squeeze my breast a little, more emerges.  There seems to be no end to it.  This can’t be normal.  Could it be an infection?  I know it’s not.  I’ve had plenty of antibiotics for bronchitis and sinus infections in the past year and they haven’t affected the breast at all.  And I have been feeling really ill and fatigued for months.  I’ve lost almost 15 pounds without changing my eating habits.  This can’t be good.

I’m scared now, but I haven’t told anyone what is going on.  Why haven’t I cared enough about myself to get this checked out again?  If this were happening to anyone else, I would say, “WTF (and I don’t swear… well, not that much anyway…), it is not nothing.  You are NOT too young.  Get yourself to a doctor.  I’ll take you right now.  The money is not important.”  Why haven’t I done this for myself?

Hopefully it is nothing and I’ll feel silly when this is all over with.

But I know it’s not nothing…

March 29, 2010 — I Wish “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”

For the past 6, 7, 8 months—I forget how long, exactly?—I’ve had this feeling that reminds me of when I breastfed my twins.  It is like the “let-down” feeling you experience when nursing.  I have been joking for months that I’m actually pregnant and just don’t know it and that I will end up on that show about women who are pregnant and don’t realize it until the babies pop out onto their shoe, or in their pants, or in the restroom at a fast food restaurant.  The breast feeling has been so consistent that I’ve actually taken multiple negative pregnancy tests.  But they have been negative for women on the show, too, so that’s no guarantee.

All kidding aside, I am becoming quite concerned about this unpleasant feeling.  In the past month or so (I’ve lost track of time, but I think it has been well over a month) it has become constant.  When you are nursing, you have a break from this tingly, consuming feeling.  But it is not letting up.  I feel it ALL of the time.  I think there is something wrong.  My gut tells me that giving birth to a surprise baby in my bathtub would be the best case scenario right now.

You may be asking why haven’t I been back to the doctor?  If you are, I applaud you.  This would be my first question to you.  It is a logical question and would have been my first step a couple of years ago.

So, why haven’t I been back to the doctor?

I don’t have health insurance.  After my husband was let go suddenly from the company he worked for for a decade, we lost the policy we had for years.  I was able to secure coverage for our 5 year old twins, but my husband and I have no coverage now.  I don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize our family financially, but I think it’s time for me to see a doctor…