wide-eyed at 4am

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Despicably Not Perfect

It’s July 4, 2017. I have lots to be thankful for. Some of my thankfulness is centered around the past two years that I’ve lived through in the hands of treatment professionals, doctors, and nurses. But most of it is more relative to the life we’re privileged to lead in this world, this country, this state, this city and even this neighborhood.

Because I don’t have to worry that bombs will go off around us, that government spies are lurking to capture us for living as we prefer, that gangs roam our neighborhood and make it unsafe to even take a walk. We don’t have those worries. At least I don’t believe that we do.

I looked at the Stars and Stripes hanging from our flag pole and gave thanks for all of this. We aren’t perfect. We’re a work in progress. But we DO believe in freedoms and opportunities.

That’s done. I’ll say no more.

But I will get back to the we aren’t perfect statement.

If there is anything that I’ve learned over the past two years, it’s this.

Those imperfections have nothing to do with my treatment path but more to do with those peers of mine that I have met along the way: my waiting room companions, others receiving treatment at the same time as me – which I have previously written about. I include now those I’ve simply experienced in malls, stores, restaurants and the latest – in a movie theater.

This experience took place just a few days ago. We excitedly purchased tickets on opening day for Despicable Me 3. We even bought tickets for 6pm on Friday evening with plans to eat dinner out after. Sort of a date, I suppose.

We snuck a couple of waters in and bought a box of movie candy to share. (which was the big splurge of the day, really) Found our seats (which are marked and match up to your ticket now that online purchases are so common). We had the two end seats – as we often try to get.

We began watcheing the previews. Several teens came in followed by a couple who were probably in their early forties. As luck would have it, their seats were right next to ours but their teens sat 2 rows up.

The theater was no where close to full so having these two in the seats right next to us was a little awkward, I suppose you could say.  When the theater didn’t fill up, they didn’t move down a seat or two to give us or themselves a little privacy. We didn’t think much of it. They looked pretty “normal”…

Before the feature began, we noticed the purchase of 2 giant tubs of popcorn. The teens had one and mom and dad, the other.

They were obviously regular movie goers. They had their routine down pat and quickly settled into their seats. We thought they would be a good group to watch a movie with. Ha!

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The previews progressed with a My Little Pony trailer that would have been quite to the liking of our 5-year-old granddaughter, Hannah. The sighs and ahs that were released by the mom were also sounds like Hannah would emit. That was the first but definitely not the last time I rolled my eyes.

Soon after Gru began his adventure, we began ours too. The first time the Minions appeared on the screen, mom laughed. Not a quiet chuckle but a loud haha-haha-haha-haha-ha. There wasn’t really anything funny happening except the “funny” sound of her loud laughter in the almost silent theater.

The mom half of the couple made her first in-feature move. She crouched and then slowly stood in front of her seat but as close to the back of the next row of recliners as possible and then she leaned over that row to reach one of their teens in the next row. She gripped a tub of popcorn in her other hand from which she poured into the tub the teens were sharing.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t practice the art if quiet whispering. She loud-whispered something to them and then sat down with her partially empty tub.

The movie was funny so there was lots of loud laughing from her.

A few – perhaps 20 minutes – of grazing on popcorn passed and then she was ready to share again.

This emptied the tub and we thought the popcorn-sharing parade was over.

But mom quickly slipped out and returned with another large tub.

After being seated, mom pulled out plastic plates, portioned out popcorn on several of them and passed them to the teens – again leaning over the 2 rows. Not sure why she didn’t pull out the plates earlier but apparently this is reserved perhaps so that she portions out the third tub of corn to make it last longer into the feature? Who knows.

Plates were filled. And the tub was depleted by mom and dad.

Finally, mom sort of sat down to actually watch the movie.

On to dad. You may think that he was the normal one of the pair. Wrong. Dad had made himself quite comfortable – as I’m sure they intend or they wouldn’t provide recliners. However, this dude took it a little too far.

Soon after mom had stopped the popcorn share, dad opted to forego the normal position of sitting in a recliner with the leg lift raised for what made him more comfortable. he scrunched his knees up and turned to the side – muhc as a child would take a nap. Wiggled around and ended up in a modified scrunch with one knee sticking up into the air.

I wasn’t quite to the eye-rolling stage – although I do find it rude to have any part of your body protruding up so that it could obscure the view of anyone on the row behind (and there were people sitting behind us).

Eye-rolling was inspired when dad chose to kick off his sandals and prop his bare feet up on the leg lift that was extended to the max.

Insert eye-rolling.

Brief explanation: I feel that putting your feet – much less bare feet – near anyone’s head/face or in their line of sight is simply disgusting. I just don’t want to see that. It’s similar to the way I feel about men who jog shirtless. I only want to see nipples at the beach or pool – not on a body of any level of fitness – trotting along any one of our area streets.

Next was the real kicker. He fell asleep. Yes – asleep. Not just for a second or two with a head bob or two but out cold in full snore, mouth hanging open and – eventually – drooling.

I really wanted to take aim and sink a piece of our candy into his gaping mouth like a Steph Curry 3-pointer but who wants to become as disgusting as he?

So amidst mom’s loud haha-haha-haha-haha-has (which didn’t awaken dad) and dad’s snoring, we watched the final part of Despicable Me 3.

We exited the theater, leaving mom, dad and their group of teens behind and ventured on to Duckworth’s to have flatbread and a glass of wine (or in Dennis’ case a beer) to complete our date night.

We enjoyed our evening – even the antics of our movie companions. We’re big people-watchers so these two simply added to bevvy of people-watch conversation fodader.

So what’s the final thought?

Well, besides wondering who in the heck raised these two and wondering how their kids can become adults with any social graces whatsoever, my final thought is that the evening’s experience surely proves that we are all far from perfect. I also know that I’m a work in progress. Unfortunately for movie-goers everywhere, these two don’t seem to be a work in progress at all!





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Am I a New Person?

The journey changes you. I AM the same person and in some ways I’m getting back to “normal.” But I’m also totally different in some ways. It has to do with perspective and priorities.

I have a new concept of what is important to me and the things that aren’t, I can for the first time just let go.

This is represented very clearly in my need to clear things out: get rid of what is useless to me. Before the journey, I would think …. Hmmmmm ….we might use that if we have a party where we want to have this or that on the deck… or I might want that if we ever go to this place or that.

I’ve finally seen the light and realized that I should use a formula when deciding what to keep and what to “release.” The formula is calculated by the answers to these questions:

Is it used regularly? Or used at all? + What is the chance that it will get used for what “might happen in the future” + how valuable is the space that it is taking up? = keep or release

This formula makes it quite easy to get rid of items that I just “couldn’t part with” before.

We’ve cleaned out our cloths closets several times. We’ve cleared out lots of space in our craft and supply closet and in the shelves and cabinets of our office. I “released” lots of old client files and duplicate samples and examples (if I keep them at all).

I was surprised (but not really) at how old some of these items were. We found cords and chargers for old phones and old Blackberries and cases for Blackberries. I found ink for printers that no longer work, coffee makers that we will never use and espresso machines and mini fryers that we will never use. I found “spare” irons and – oh yes – empty boxes from phones, and other devices, and handbooks for long gone of the same.

Amazing what gets pushed back and covered up in such rooms, closets and cabinets.

The attic is next. Lots of stuff will go.

I’m not sure if it is a southern thing or just something with my family but we all have always saved gift boxes so that you don’t have to get or buy more the next Christmas. My Grandmother had a supply of them as does my aunt, mother and sister so it’s not just me. But looking at them when I’m in the attic gives me a headache now so I will get up there a get rid of the heat baked and crushed ones and select what should be kept and break them down to store. We also have tax records that go WWWAAAAYYYYY beyond when even the IRS would find them informative. They are going. There are Christmas decorations (like individual window candles) that I don’t use anymore and are mostly broken, yellowed or burned out and too old to even find replacement bulbs for. There are heat-baked bows and door wreaths that once were but have now ceased to be attractive. It’s just time.

I’ve figured out that if I REALLY ever do need or want one of these space-consuming, past their prime items again, I can purchase a brand new, updated one.

What is it that produces this phenomenon? Is it that you realize you could leave this earth is a second and you don’t want someone to have to clean out your house? Could it be that staring cancer in the face makes you realize that you just don’t need all this stuff. And if it isn’t useful, it really is just crap.

That is where I am. Even when I’m out shopping, I have a more specific and selective eye. There is no more “Oh, we could use this for XX is we ever XX.” Or “OMG this is a great price. I might wear it.” Nope. Those days are gone.

Could it be that I’m more focused on what is important and more focused on clearing out the clutter that might be getting in the way of it. Sort of like how focused you get on the finish line when you can actually see it. When I’m coming to the end of a run and I’m thirsty and panting, the sight of my endpoint makes me even more determined about getting there.

There is clarity in focus. It’s really a good thing.

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And Now the Scammers…

As if you don’t have enough to deal with when you’re on your journey with cancer, scam artists have to enter the picture.

Even if you have amazing insurance (which thankfully has been my experience), managing the financial end of the cancer journey is – to say the least – interesting.

It can be quite overwhelming when medical bills and hospital statements start pouring in.

Some of the best advice provided by my navigator was “Don’t even look at your bills while you’re going through treatment.”

It’s sooooo true.

Things can change with what you owe and what your charges eventually finalize as so the best thing is to let the filing process take place (it will take your providers at least 30 days to do this – some larger facilities take longer).

No one is going to come after you. They know how this game works.

The first year of my journey (2015), I was close to meeting my deductible by the time I had my mastectomy. I had already had my needle biopsy and lab fees associated with that, so – like I said – I was practically to my deductible.

And the surgery immediately put me over the top with my out-of-pocket maximum, so moving into a second surgery and on to chemo and lymphedema therapy in the fall was sort of financially non-eventful.

But starting off in 2016, I didn’t have the one huge event right off the bat to force me to immediately exceed my limits.

I didn’t think this would be the case because I was still in the midst of chemo when the calendar year changed. This is when I learned how “the order of things” work. What I quickly learned (from a very patient and fabulous BCBSNC rep) is that it really doesn’t matter when I HAD a procedure. It matters when they PROCESS their bill with insurance. Ah! And like I noted above, some institutions are much quicker than others….

So reaching my deductible and out-of-pocket limits was confusing to me. This is when waiting pays off. I watched my BCBS account online and saw items filed – some items filed and refiled.

I was pretty meticulous about this (and actually found it interesting to look at what charges for myriad of processes and procedures of my treatment were) so I worked pretty hard to match my paper invoices and statements up with what was filed online.

This is where I got confused and learned the lesson to just let everything work itself out.

I thought people were double billing. I thought I was getting charged past when my limits were met. I thought charges were issued on dates that I wasn’t at particular facilities.

It will make you insane – if you let it! So don’t.

I only let it consume me for a couple of days and then I talked to the fabulous BCBS rep that I referenced earlier. And after that I could just let it go!

I learned that you’re not only going to get invoices from some institutions, you’re going get monthly statements. I have so much paperwork from JUST invoicing, that I created a separate filing system for that and all of the other paperwork pertaining to the journey.

Actually, the American Cancer Society sends cancer patients a medical paperwork filing folder. But I already had ones set up and actually preferred having mine organized in separate folders by “other” paperwork and invoicing because it really is 2 different worlds of your treatment.

After learning how to “collate” my invoices, I could see how many of them were pertaining to the same charge. The reason you have to watch this is this: I saw some of the charges change.  I also had charges from invoices that didn’t match the details for the corresponding insurance filing.

So I kept my checkbook closed. It was the end of the year before I actually paid this off. It was liberating when I did (and I wish that could have happened earlier) but I did NOT want to pay something that would need to be refunded to me. These places take as long or longer to refund something as they do to process it. You really don’t want to have to wait 90 days for CMC to refund you several hundred or thousand dollars.

The “fun” part came when the calls started.

I knew this was unusual because larger medical orgs are sort of like the IRS, they don’t have the tie nor staff to call people about accounts. They send you a statement and ask you to call.

I actually only had 1 group call about an invoice. It was the radiology folks. They are much smaller and handle their own stuff….not woven into part of CMC. They even involved a collection agency. But the amount was in the 4 digits, it was in the 3-digit range so I had an easier time with it. I did explain that I was trying to make sure that I paid the right people and not people whose invoices preceded the whole insurance deductible/out-of-pocket limit shake out. They were very helpful and cordial about it.

Make a note here too, if you get a call from a “collection agency” representing the organization you owe: A collection agency will not be in contact with you at the same time as the organization… The organization CAN NOT contact you after they engage the collection agency. So the first clue that the collection thing is a scam is if you are still getting invoices from or you’re talking to your provider.

So I mention scams.

Yes – there are people who are low enough to prey on cancer victims. They know that the details and side effects of your treatment is confusing and brain numbing enough that they may be able to get some money out of you before you realize you’re not paying the right people.

It’s important to KNOW who you’ve paid, who the organizations are that you owe and the status of your accounts.

These people are aware of this and call themselves names that are very close to the organization where you went.

They are devious. Don’t let them pull one over on you. It’s great to let them know that you now they are scammers. It makes them mad sometimes and that will at least give you a laugh as you have to deal with such scum.

It’s not just coincidental that scam is only 1 letter different than scum.