wide-eyed at 4am

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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.


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Roll With It

Facebook memories have been a bit of a blessing for me over the past few months.

I see first infusion days and recovery time pictures when I couldn’t even manage to make my way off the sofa.

I also see me with my “old hair.”

I didn’t think a person could really forget what they looked like. But some of these pictures re surprising to me. After gaining this new perspective, I don’t think I want to go back to the old look. It just looks ike too much hair. Of course, after you’ve first had to get accustomed to the way you look with no hair and then the way you look in a wig and then the way you look as your hair returns, less hair begins to be the new normal.

I’m lucky short and silver is in style because I have that down.

The memory pictures from last year also show me how far I’ve come. While it was taking place, my treatment seemed a bit never-ending. But now it seems like it’s been only a short time since it was all happening.

Come October 15, I will “celebrate” 1 year, 4 months since diagnosis. Since then, I’ve had (not necessarily in order) 3 surgeries, 16 chemo treatments, 32 radiation treatments and 5 month’s of the hormone inhibitor medication. But I’m not finished.

On November 2, I have (what I hope will be) my final surgical procedures. This surgery sort of promises to be much less impactful than my other 3. It’s mostly superficial tweaking. Remember the nipple conversation? It’s time. And actually, my skin has healed so well that it started out that the surgery would be moved up from the predicted timeframe of 6 months from the end of radiation. In actuality it will almost fall 6 months from the end of that process but not because of my need for it to happen that way. It’s actually because of the need to sync up a very busy plastic surgeon with an equally as busy operating room suite! After this surgery, only the nipple tattoo will remain!

That will take us into 2017 – which I really wanted to avoid. But what can you do?

If there is one thing that 2015 and 2016 have taught me it’s to roll with it.


Most things are out of my control anyway so just let it happen.

Once I figured this out, I have been able to just accept things and move on.

Oh, there are things that ARE within my realm of control but those aren’t necessarily the stressors.

And the reason I can just roll with it? Letting God have it. Prayer. Faith. Support.

Even when things upset me – taking a deep breath – and remembering who is really in control gets me through it.

Example: I’ve had several conversations with my insurance company. (Big shock, right?) And of course, each time I call, I get a different customer service person, of course. They each have their own “expertise” let’s call it. And this has caused me to get various answers to the same questions.

Finally on Monday I thought I had (with the help of one of these customer service folks) gotten some questions answered. Since (on Thursday) I’m having the colonoscopy screening that I should have had while undergoing chemo last Fall, I called my insurance company to make sure that this is a covered “event.” Imagine my surprise when they told me that I would have to pay because my out-of-pocket has not yet been met.

Apparently, on Monday I was misinformed about a claim by my apparently less than informed customer service person who had since refiled that claim – which caused my filed claims and associated costs to me to change – and took the last $1500 that put me over my out-of-pocket away. Eck!

My head almost exploded. But I regained my composure and talked through my experience from Monday with the customer service person for that day. The call ended with this person going off to have a discussion with an underwriter and to further examine exactly what had transpired on Monday and what misinformation I had been given.

Turns out that a resubmitted Carolinas Health Care claim looked like a new claim. I thought the insurance company had (in error of course) mis-categorized this claim as one that would not be paid at 100% as should happen when I reach my max. Because this was a duplicate not a separate claim, it took the $1500 toward the maximum amount back.

My point was that – since they misinformed me and resubmitted a claim that should have never been resubmitted – they should just hit the undo button.

The customer service person promised to call me back with the resolution by the end of the day or the next morning. My expectation was that I wouldn’t hear from them for a few days. So I would be wondering whether I would have to be prepared to pay a portion this Thursday or not.

Much to my surprise and delight, a call back came in less than an hour. And – even better – they could do exactly what I had mentioned. They could hit the undo button and restore the amounts to their state prior to the resubmission. Meaning that I would be a 100% coverage again! Yay!

During that hour of waiting, I really didn’t have a blood pressure spike or pace like a caged panther waiting for the call. I said to myself. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it.

I suppose the cancer journey teaches you that you can do that. You can just roll with it and deal with it as it comes to you.