BUSY DAY AND FLOWERS

We are not busy bees, buzzing from activity to activity. So much stuff gets done online, many of the busy things we used to do are no longer necessary. But — and there’s always a but — there are some things which require a personal touch. This was one of those days.

My final activity of the day was visiting the oncologist — never my favorite activity on any day. I was supposed to do it a month ago, but I wasn’t up to it and deferred it to today.

I needed to go to the post office and mail a small package and, we sold the yellow car. It hasn’t left home yet, but it’s merely waiting to be picked up. Since the new insurance policy came through at the end of last week, this seemed the right time to deal with officially removing the old car.

Yesterday, I went online yesterday and cancelled the plates. Today, I took the paper to the agent and changed our insurance policy to just one car. In our lives together, this is the first time we’ve only had one car. When we were both working, there was no question about needing two vehicles. These days, we rarely need two. I suppose there will be times when we need a second car, at which time we’ll just have to rent one, should it come to that.

I was surprised that our insurance dropped by half. I didn’t think one little old car was costing that much. So I guess it was a good thing and now, we don’t have to replace the tires, the brakes, and the dead battery.

The oncologist is another story. Anyone who has had cancer, now or previously, knows that the periodic visit to the oncologist makes you edgy. The long scar on my right breast has developed a hard piece of scar tissue underneath it. I have been working hard at ignoring it, but it kept bugging me. Last January, I went and saw the nurse practitioner (the doctor was on vacation) and we agreed it didn’t seem to be more than what I thought it was — a hard piece of scar tissue.

Today, at the doctor, we reached the same conclusion … with a proviso. If it seems to be growing or getting harder, back I go. And instead of my usually year between visits, I’m back in three months. It could be something. It probably isn’t. But … it could be. This is why cancer is not a lot of fun. A lot of things could be nothing, but then again, they could be something. And that something is not good.

I’m good at forgetting and with a little luck, I’ll have forgotten this entirely by tomorrow morning. If Medicare didn’t charge $450 for an ultrasound, I’d probably have sprung for the test. I don’t know about other retirees, but I don’t happen to have that hunk of money, so unless I think it’s life or death — it will wait.

Still, a lot got done. I finally got to see my doctor and a lens is on its way to Arizona. Our insurance dropped to as low as insurance ever gets.

For a few minutes when we got out of the hospital, it was sunny and I could see that spring really has come. Most places, anyway. It is less apparent here because our trees are all oak and they have no leaves yet. Other places where they have ornamental trees or maples, there are some small leaves and many flowers.

Since a few days ago, we gained two gorgeous yellow tulips and hillside of Solomon’s Seal has sprung up. It is amazing. In the middle of last week, I saw no evidence they were growing at all. Oh, and the Columbine are starting to bloom. It has been cold and rainy … but finally, spring is coming.

STAYING ALIVE

In 2010, I discovered I had cancer in both breasts. Two tumors, unrelated to each other. Just twice lucky. They removed the tumors and the associated breasts, gave me very attractive fake replacements. Much perkier than the old ones in an artificial implant sort of way. I have a little ID card for my breasts, like they have their own personae. Maybe they do. Thus, a little more than seven years after the siege began, I’m officially a survivor. Almost but not quite.

My mother died of metastasized breast cancer. My brother died of pancreatic cancer 10 years ago, having never gotten as old as I am. This is not a reassuring family history.

All chronic illnesses make you paranoid. The thing that’s so insidious about cancer is its absence of symptoms. The possibility that it is growing somewhere in your body and you won’t know it’s there until it’s too late, is about as scary as disease gets. Nor is it a baseless fear. I had no idea I had cancer — much less in both breasts — until it was diagnosed twice during a two-week period. One diagnosis of cancer is hard to handle. A second diagnosis a week later is like getting whacked over the head with a bat. It leaves you stunned, scrambling to find someplace to stand where the earth isn’t falling out from under you.

I don’t think most of us are afraid of dying per se. We are afraid of the journey we will have taken to get there. We’re afraid of pain, suffering, the humiliation of dependence and gradual loss of control of our own bodies. After having one or more close encounters with the dark angel, no one is eager to feel the brush of those wings again.

We are called survivors, which means that we aren’t dead yet. The term is meaningless. Put into perspective, we are all survivors. Anyone could be felled by a heart attack or run over by an out-of-control beer truck tomorrow. The end of the road is identical for all living creatures; it’s only a matter of when it will be and what cause will be assigned. Everyone is in the same boat. If you’ve been very sick, you are more aware of your mortality than those who who’ve been blessed with uneventful health, but no one gets a free pass. The odds of death are 100% for everyone.

Recovering from serious illness is a bumpy road. Each of us has a particular “thing” we find especially bothersome. For me, it’s dealing with well-wishers who ask “How are you?” If they wanted an answer, it might not be so aggravating, but they don’t want to hear about my health or my feelings about my health — which are often as much the issue than anything physical.

They are being polite. So, I give them what they want. I smile brightly and say “Just fine thank you.”

I have no idea how I am. All I know — all I can possibly know — is that for the time being, I am here. To the best of my knowledge, nothing is growing anywhere it’s not supposed to be.  Six-and-a-half years after a double mastectomy, I am in remission. That’s as good as it gets.

The real answer for those of us who have had cancer, heart attacks, and other potentially lethal and chronic ailments is “So far, so good.”

That is not what anyone wants to hear. We are supposed to be positive. Upbeat. You are not supposed to suffer from emotional discomfort. Why not? Because if you aren’t fine, maybe they aren’t, either. They have a bizarre and annoying need for you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed no matter how you actually feel. It’s their version of a vaccine.

Since cancer, I’ve gone through major heart surgery and having survived that, I figure I’m good to go for a while. None of us are forever, but I’m alive. Presumably I’ll continue to stay that way.

Welcome to surviving. It’s imperfect, but it beats the hell out of the alternative.

SYMPTOM | THE DAILY PROMPT

ONCOLOGY AND AN INTERESTING BOOK

REPLACEMENT BREASTS – NOT QUITE ORIGINAL ISSUE


Anyone who has had cancer, no matter how many years have passed, knows you are never “cured.” The best anyone can say is “so far, so good.” Cancer isn’t a single disease. There is no test to tell you your body is free of cancer cells.

This is, of course, true of everyone from birth till death, but when you have had a run in with cancer, it stops being theoretical and morphs into something more sinister and personal. In 2010, I had a double mastectomy, losing both breasts to cancer. It wasn’t a prophylactic double mastectomy. I actually had cancer in both breasts. Two unrelated tumors at the same time. The odds against getting breast cancer in both breasts simultaneously are incredibly small. I seem to be one of the those people who manages to beat normal odds — not in a good way.

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After the mastectomies, I got instant reconstruction. Two silicon implants replaced my breasts. They do not, as people imagine, look like real breasts. When you are in the tunnel through breast cancer to (hopefully) recovery, you find yourself answering weird questions. Like “how large do you want them to be?” Do you want nipples? Saline or silicon?

I went with smallish and no nipples (they require two extra surgeries and they are entirely for appearance), and silicon, which feels more real. I suppose it’s all for appearance, really — the appearance of womanhood matters when the parts have been replaced with something that isn’t real flesh.

Everything went well — or as well as these things ever go. I hoped I was done with cancer. Imagine my surprise when I realized there was something hard underneath the scar across my right implant. Flat, hard. My first reaction was “What the hell?” Can I get breast cancer without breasts?

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I hit the Internet to discover it is probably scar tissue. Or (unlikely but not impossible) a very rare form of skin cancer that grows directly under the mastectomy scar. Rare isn’t impossible. Not in my world, so reluctantly, I made an appointment at the Dana-Farber. It is the only dedicated cancer facility in Worcester County and has been where I’ve done all my follow-up since the surgery.

I had my surgery and reconstruction at the Faulkner Hospital in Boston. My surgeon and plastic reconstruction surgeon are the best. Anywhere. Literally described by my local oncologist calls “the dream team,” If you have breast cancer, this is as good as it gets and if life throws this at you, I strongly advise you to find the best surgeons, even if they aren’t convenient. You want to get this right the first time.

My oncologist thinks, as I do, that it’s nothing to get excited about, but we’ll watch it. If it seems to be growing, or starts hurting, we’ll move on to testing. In the meantime, I take a deep breath and can return to worrying about the lunatic pretending to be President who seems intent on making my personal angst irrelevant by blowing up the world.


As this was going on, I have been reading. A lot. Most of the books have been lackluster, to put it kindly. Life and Other Near-Death Experiences: A Novel by Camille Pagan grabbed me from the first page and kept me engaged to the end, wishing that it wouldn’t end. Which is a pretty unusual thing to say considering the book is about a young woman who discovers she has a very rare, aggressive form of cancer and her marriage comes unglued — at the same time. Literally, both things hitting her on the same day.

life-and-other-near-death-experiences-coverWhat takes the book out of the ordinary from other books that deal with life and death, is it never takes the easy way out. No cheap or easy solutions. It confronts real-life decisions that people in major life crises are forced to make. It does so with humor, wit, and realism.

The main character of the story freaks out when her life falls apart and needs time plus substantial support from family and friends to face her new reality. It’s the most realistic story about dealing with cancer I’ve read and it wasn’t depressing. Not a guffaw filled romp or a vale of tears. It reminded me that how we react to appalling news varies, but we all react. You cannot fail to be changed by facing death while realizing there’s no guarantee you’ll beat it, no matter what you do.

Once you’ve had any medical crisis that will kill you left untreated and might kill you anyway, even with treatment, you never look at life the same way. You don’t take life as a given. None of us should ever take life for granted, but most of us do. Until we come face to face with the dark angel and he’s holding our number.

This is a good book. A surprisingly good book. I hope it will get some attention. It is lumped into the category of “humor” where it doesn’t exactly fit … but I’m not sure where it would fit. Maybe humor is as good as any other placement.

Regardless, any book that can make you laugh in the face of death is worth a read.

REFRESH!

REFRESH

Today, after having postponed this appointment three times, I finally went for my annual checkup with the oncologist.

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I like my oncologist. He’s a very pleasant, easy-going, friendly guy. Low key. Not an alarmist. Sensitive and sensible. But, in the end, he’s the one who will tell me if I have cancer. Again.

So, as much as I like the guy, I’m not eager to see him. Too much history.

I’ve been doing well. I’ve got more energy than I used to, probably because of all the heart surgery a couple of years ago and having a pump that actually is delivering oxygen to my body. I think my breast bone has finally knitted. I no longer hear it grinding when I move.

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My double round of breast cancer is now 5-1/2 years past. This makes me an official survivor. I have no symptoms, no lumps, no nothing. I have exactly the same chance of getting some (new) kind of cancer as anyone. Maybe a little higher because it runs in my family, but basically, I am (finally) regular folks.

If you think of “refresh” as that thing you do on your computer monitor to clear up garbage and update your open apps? Today was my “refresh.”

I’m clean. My panel of tests are spot on normal. The lab lady found a live vein on the first stab, too!

It doesn’t get better than this.

MR. COFFEE AND BREAST CANCER

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I was just out of the hospital having had a bi-lateral mastectomy. I came home in pain, shock, full of drains and swathed in bandages. I felt I had been bludgeoned and the world was upside down.

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My best friend was staying with me. She had stayed with me in the hospital too. The very definition of friendship is that one person who will sleep in a chair in your hospital room for three nights to make sure you’re okay. They don’t give medals for it, but they should.

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I didn’t recover quickly. It wasn’t just the physical changes or pain. Breast cancer requires a revision of a woman’s sense of self and womanhood. There’s no such thing as “simple healing” when one loses significant pieces of ones body, especially those pieces which are specifically identified as “feminine” and without which … well … it’s different.

I was not a happy camper, but I was alive. I had a family, my friend, and a few good computers. There was food to eat, coffee to drink. More slowly than I imagined possible, I got better.

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Until the coffee machine died. One morning, I slunk into the kitchen and there was water everywhere. The Mellita machine we’d had for a  few years sprung a leak. Its life ended in a giant puddle on the kitchen floor. It’s actually quite remarkable how much more water 12 cups is when it escapes its carafe and takes up residence on the floor.

We tossed the Melitta in the trash and realized we were in the midst of a major life crisis. We most urgently, desperately and immediately needed a new coffee machine.

Garry and Cherrie went to the local Walmart — literally the only shop in town and it isn’t even our town, it’s two towns over — and ended up buying a Black and Decker. It was a 12-cup machine and came with a reusable filter. It seemed a sensible choice. Without further ado, the new machine was set up and put into service. We were saved. There would be coffee.

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We are a coffee-loving family. Coffee is the start of the day. No coffee? No way! The household went into emergency mode.

Within 48 hours of getting the new coffee machine, we all began to lose our taste for coffee. No one wanted a second cup. We weren’t even finishing the first cup. A 12-cup machine was previously not big enough for all of us and we had to make a second batch. Now, one pot was more than adequate. We had leftover coffee.

One morning, Cherrie said she thought maybe she’d like some tea. Garry decided he didn’t really need coffee and I didn’t want any either.

Suddenly, I knew. It had to be the coffee machine. Until we’d gotten the Black and Decker, everyone loved coffee. A week later, no one was interested. Cherrie wanted tea? Cherrie?

I sent Garry out with instructions to come back with a Mr. Coffee. It may not be the best machine on the market, but it makes consistently good coffee.

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Out went the Black and Decker, in came Mr. Coffee … and coffee was back. I eventually surmised that the Black and Decker fed the water through the grounds too fast to produce the right flavor … and there was something weird about that metal basket (we went back to paper filters). Also, the water was the wrong temperature.

The years have come and gone and we are one more Mr. Coffee down the road.

We are happy. There is coffee. It is good and hot. It is the smell and taste of morning, the one single thing I can’t imagine giving up. Take away everything, but do not take away my coffee. Or Mr. Coffee. When you have a good thing going, you don’t mess with it.

Mr. Coffee. Accept no substitute.

TIS THE SEASON

This is the “giving season.” Not only does Christmas make many people feel they should give whatever they can afford to those less fortunate, but it is the end of the year. If you are going to donate money as a tax deduction, now is the time.

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Giving is good and worthy, but be careful to whom you donate. There are a huge number of charity scams, some legal, many not. They call on the phone, they send emails. They may solicit you on the street. What’s the real story?


I got a call a couple of months ago from a group supposedly collecting money to help women who have breast cancer. Specifically, this group purports to help woman by giving them money to cover the not-inconsiderable expenses connected with cancer. Any cancer, but breast cancer is currently in vogue. I ought to be on a list somewhere. Probably several lists given the breadth and diversity of my physical issues.

“Our goal,” said the collector, “is to assist women with breast cancer who are financially struggling.”

I asked her if she was offering to give me money or asking me to give them money. Because if she was asking me to give them money, she was calling the wrong woman. But if she was offering to help me out, I would be very grateful for any assistance.

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Nice tee-shirt. No part of the price went to charity, no matter what it says

She seemed confused by my question, so I explained that I am a breast cancer victim. I’m in persistent financial straits, so I should be exactly the type of individual for whom her organization is collecting funds. So, if the goal is to help woman with cancer who need money and they’re offering to give me some, I’d be delighted to give them my address so they could send a check. They already have my phone number. I’d be expecting your check. Not.

She told me to have a good day and hung up.

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So — for whom are they collecting the money? No one ever called to find out if I need help. She did insist they were collecting money for women just like me. I was obviously not on their “to be helped” list — and I’ve never heard of the organization.

No doubt they will use the money they raise to raise more money. Which they will use to line their own pockets. No one will ever benefit from it except the fundraisers. Another scam.

"Direct cash" is what they really give to someone other than themselves.

“Direct cash aid” is what really goes to support causes — about 5%.

Which is how these things seem to work. Have you ever heard of anyone actually getting any help from one of these groups? Ever? Even a rumor of someone who knew someone who heard about someone who was helped by such an organization? I haven’t. Not one person anywhere ever.

Tee shirts: I have a few breast cancer tee shirts. Some were gifts. One I bought because it made me laugh. Do not assume that any part of the money these transactions goes to charity. It doesn’t. Tee shirt makers’ personal bank accounts are the only cause they support.


I got a note from a friend of mine recently. She asked:

This may seem irrational, but …

I have some bitter feelings about ACS, left over from when my Mom was dying of multiple myeloma (think Geraldine Ferraro) back in the early 1980s, when there really was no treatment for that devastating disease. As her caretaker (and single parent, low-income but employed), I was feeling desperate and alone one time so I called the local chapter. The person who answered the phone day was curt and dismissive, telling me that the only way they could help was by giving us rolled bandages — which my Mom didn’t need. I like to think it would be different now, but ever since that phone call (just a fluke?) I have taken a dim view of ACS.

Not surprisingly, The Charity Navigator, a group that rates charities and how much of the money they collect actually gets to someone other than themselves, rates the American Cancer Society poorly. Two out of five stars.

I answered her as follows (this is my actual answer, with identifying information omitted for privacy reasons):

To the best of my knowledge, this is not an organization that has ever helped anyone. Ever. I called them when Jeff had cancer and they were just as helpful to me as they were to you. This is one of many “charitable organizations” that seems to exist to collect funds so they can collect more funds. And pay their CEO a princely salary (more than a million dollars annually). As far as I’m concerned, they’re a legal scam. They don’t help anyone.

Exactly who does get the money? Good question. Worth asking. When you get fundraising calls, it’s normal to want to give, if you can. After all, it’s for charity. Isn’t it?

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Most of the money ends up supporting the fundraisers.

Maybe. Maybe not. Before you open your checkbook, find out who they help. Where the money goes. Many “legitimate” groups — the bigger and better known especially — give almost nothing to help anyone or anything except themselves.

Typically, the percentage that goes to “serving those in need” is less than 5% of the total funds collected. If you gave $10, that’s 50 cents. Not much of a return on your investment. This doesn’t take into account the actual scams of which there are a frightening and rapidly growing number.

If you give to one of them, you have thrown your money away. For nothing and no one. How people can use other people’s suffering to enrich themselves? I don’t know, but, it’s done all the time. By many people.

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A word about the Salvation Army. Although they do some good stuff, they charge high prices for donated items. I have seen clothing I donated tagged at prices so high that I couldn’t afford to buy it back. I no longer donate to them. Instead, I find groups who give clothing and other necessities to those who need it — free. Our church collects coats and other warm clothing, as do most churches in cold winter areas. There is also Planet World and other groups.

A FEW GOOD CHOICES

Catholic Charities of USA and associated local chapters support food pantries, free clinics, emergency programs for anyone who needs help regardless of religious affiliation. The American Kennel Club helps dogs, all kinds of dogs, purebred and not. The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) provides legal assistance. Whether or not the work they do is something you choose to support is a different issue, but they do live up to their charter.

On the negative side, there’s the United Fund which exists to collect money to support its efforts to collect money. PETA doesn’t give anything to anyone except maybe each other. The American Breast Cancer Association (zero out of four stars) is a legal scam as is the Breast Cancer Prevention Fund  (one star) and there are many more.

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Your local church, synagogue, or mosque is a far better investment. Local religious groups do a lot of good in their communities, quietly, without fanfare. Usually behind the scenes and for free.

Direct charity is always a great choice. If you have a friends who having a hard time, help them. At least you will know your money went where it’s genuinely needed.

Bigger is not necessarily better, especially when you’re talking about charities. Big publicity campaigns mean that big money is being spent and not on helping people or doing research.

Most national charities have local chapters — and they do the real work. Local chapters need to raise funds themselves to continue their work because the national groups keeps the money for their own purposes — usually raising more money and paying high salaries to executives.

Donate to local groups rather than the national organizations.

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Finally, lots of charities have similar names. You need to know the precise legal name of the group. Scams and legitimate groups sound the same when spoken quickly by a solicitor on the phone. Don’t donate to street collectors or telephone solicitors unless you personally know the group and what they do.

Ask for literature. If they don’t have any, it’s a scam. Even the smallest groups have a leaflet of some kind. Do not assume a website means anything. You know how easy it is to create a website … fake address and all.

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Ask questions. Do your homework. For many of us, finding a little money to donate to anyone is a stretch, so before you give, know to whom it’s going.

Otherwise — I’m serious about this — give the money to someone who is struggling. At least you will know your gift helped someone. It won’t be tax-deductible, but that’s not the point, is it?

STATE OF THE STATE: LAST YEAR, REDUX

It took me five months to see an oncologist from Fallon who ran my 2013 Medicare Advantage plan. In 2014, I switched to Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Value Advantage PPO. It came as a blast of clean air. Life has been so much better ever since. Not perfect, but better.

Still, this is a story worth retelling because although the names change, the same situations recur. Right now, I’m going through a similar snafu with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It has me convinced that my state is run by morons. Garry says I’m being unfair to morons.

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This story had a beginning and an end. It started when, in November 2012 I gave up my expensive Humana Medigap policy and joined Fallon’s Senior Medicare Advantage plan. It sounded okay on paper.

The customer service person who signed me up assured me Dana-Farber in Milford was covered by Fallon. Untrue. It left me without an oncologist. I was not too upset. I could see my Dana-Farber doctor once more and get a referral from him.

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Wrong. My oncologist didn’t know anyone at UMass in Worcester which is Fallon’s only cancer care facility in the county.

Even this didn’t faze me. I’m in the maintenance phase. I go for checkups and blood tests. Nonetheless, cancer runs in my family. Mother. Brother. Both maternal grandparents. I’ve had cancer twice. It’s too soon to stop monitoring.

My Dana Farber oncologist said the UMass facility is good, but he couldn’t help me find a new doctor. He told me to call the HMO and ask them who they have in medical oncology with a specialty in breast cancer. I already knew my PCP couldn’t give me a referral.

I called Fallon.

She said — this is a quote: “We do not list our doctors by specialty.”

“What,” I asked, “Do you list them by? Alphabetically?”

I mean, seriously, if you don’t list doctors by specialty, how can anyone get an appropriate referral? This is senior health care . It’s cancer — not rare among the senior set. Not rare among any set.

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I explained I needed a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer. Cancer doctors are specialized and it did make a difference. No, there’s no such thing as “just an oncologist.” If ignorance was bliss, this was a happy woman.

I explained (again) it would not be okay to send me to “just any” oncologist. I needed a doctor who knew my cancer.

I spent an hour or two being told I needed to go to my primary care doctor for a referral. It was like talking to a robot. Another 45 minutes passed until I was transferred to a supervisor. I retold the story. She said she would “research the problem” and get back to me.

I called my doctor’s office, explained that I hadn’t been able to get a referral from the oncologist at the Dana-Farber, nor could I get a referral from Fallon who seemed to think my PCP should send me to the right doctor. Even though I told them that Dr. S. didn’t know the doctors at UMass, Worcester. I needed help.

A few hours later, my doctor’s office called back and gave me a name, an appointment, and a phone number. The appointment was for just a few days hence, also my birthday. I didn’t want an oncology appointment on my birthday. I called the office.

I got transferred, then transferred again. I ended up talking to Lisa, the administrator for the Breast Cancer Care department. It turned out the doctor with whom I’d been booked was a surgeon Also, they couldn’t do anything without my medical records — scattered through 3 hospitals and a doctor’s office.

Lisa said not to worry, she would take care of it. She did.

She changed the appointment, booked me with a doctor who specialized in my type of cancer, called the various offices and ordered my medical records sent to UMass. Said if I had any kind of problem, give her a call and she’d fix it. Women with cancer didn’t need extra problems. What a difference she made!

My PCP’s assistant called to ask why I’d cancelled the appointment she’d made. I explained that doctor was a surgeon. I’d already been surged. I needed a different doctor. She was pissed because it hadn’t been easy to get that appointment. She could not grasp the difference between a medical oncologist and a surgeon.

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I explained again I didn’t need a surgeon. I have no breasts. I did need my medical records. She said yes, Lisa from UMass had called, but she wasn’t sure where to send them.

“Didn’t Lisa tell you where to send them?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Then … why don’t you send them where she told you to send them?”

“But you cancelled the appointment I made!” she said.

“I changed the appointment. Actually, Lisa changed it. Because the doctor to which you were sending me was the wrong doctor. Now I have an appointment with the right doctor. I’m not blaming you. Why are you mad at me?” I reassured her I truly appreciated her efforts.

“Oh,” she said. Not “I’m sorry.” Just “oh.”

“Right,” I said.

I subsequently got many calls from Fallon, all wanting to explain again why I was unhappy with their customer service. I said a patient should be able to call and get names of appropriate doctors and basic information about the doctor. This is fundamental to medical care.

Everyone agreed with me, but I was sure nothing would change. Inertia always wins.

The day was only half over; I was not done.

When I finished the marathon calls to Fallon, I got a call from Humana to remind me I hadn’t made a payment this month.

I hadn’t made the payment because I had cancelled the insurance when I switched to a Medicare Advantage (HMO) program. At the end of November, I had signed up with Fallon, then called Humana to cancel my policy as of the first of the year. I was told that as soon as my new program kicked in, the old policy would be automatically cancelled. There was nothing for me to do.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” I was told.

In was the middle of March. Humana was harassing me for money. When they called again, I got a person on the phone,  pointed out I’d cancelled the plan.

The representative said that he could see in his records I’d called to cancel. I’d been given incorrect information. I had to send them a letter. I could not cancel by phone. I said I signed up by phone. Why did I have to write a letter to cancel?

“Those are the rules,” he said.

“I want to speak to your manager,” I said. He explained that the manager would tell me the same thing. I pointed out that I didn’t care, I wanted to talk to a manager. I didn’t owe them any money.

He said I’d have to file a dispute to not pay them. Although it was their fault and they could see I called to cancel the policy, I would have to fix the problem, though they caused it.

I thought my head would explode.

customer-service

The manager reiterated indeed they’d given me incorrect information, but it was my problem. Tough luck lady. I hung up, steam coming out of my ears.

I took a breath, called their other customer service department.

The lady I spoke to looked it up, agreed they had given me erroneous information, contacted the cancellation department and assured me it was fixed. I have a name and a number in case it isn’t. I pointed out they had burned a whole year of good will in an hour. And any further harassment and I’d call the Attorney General and report them for sharp business practices.

It had grown dark while all this was going on and as the day had gone from morning to evening.

How come so many incompetent people have jobs? Why are they working when so many more intelligent and better qualified people are out of work? It’s a mystery.


STATE OF THE YEAR, REDUX, 2013 EDITION WITH UPDATES