Are You Protected from a Catastrophic Illness in Your Family?

I live in the Greater Houston area.  You’d have to be living under a rock not to know that Hurricane Harvey decimated many parts of Houston.  Having lived in the Houston area for over 20 years, I know that flooding is a real and present possibility no matter where I live in the region.

My husband, Shane, and I buy a very affordable FEMA flood policy every year. Our home has never flooded in a storm so we have never had to file a claim. We pay into the system, along with many other families who thankfully have never had to file. We all contribute to a pool of monies that helps the families who do flood.

Health Insurance is exactly the same. ANY family can be faced catastrophic illness at anytime.  The best way to ensure your family doesn’t lose everything is to have health insurance in place.

I am living with metastatic breast cancer. I will be in treatment for the rest of my life.

My family’s total out-of-pocket medical expenses run about $10K per year with insurance. Without insurance we surely would have gone bankrupt the first year, and I would most likely be dead today.

Micro-business owners and solopreneurs especially need to heed my advice here, you do not want to put your family in a difficult financial position that could easily be prevented by having the proper insurance in place.

Open Enrollment begins November 1st on HealthCare.gov.

Be sure your family is protected.

Bringing Kindness to the Internet

“I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.” – Monica Lewinsky

Today is Monica Lewkinsky’s birthday. Lewinsky is a woman I deeply admire. Back in 2015, I shared her amazing talk at the Forbes Under 30 Summit about her experience as Patient Zero. She lifted herself out of the ugliest of situations and is now using her story to combat cyber-bullying.

Stories and Truth

I see much unkindness on Facebook, despite diligent unfollowing and unfriending of those I feel are unkind. In their defense, sometimes people are so passionate about a particular topic, that they don’t realize they are being unkind.

You see, I often post on Facebook in support of the Affordable Care Act, because it literally saved my life. I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer just one month after the discounted health insurance policy I purchased through healthcare.gov went into effect. I have been in continuous treatment for what is now metastatic breast cancer for over 3 years. The ACA is responsible for my life. Literally. If I had not purchased that ACA subsidized plan, faced with a heavy financial burden my family could not pay, I would have chosen to allow the disease to take my life. Because I had the health insurance in place, I chose to fight. That is my truth, and I share my truth freely.

However, there are some who chose to ignore my truth, and to only believe their own story, or the story being fed to them by dogma. They do not realize they are being unkind when they respond to my support of the ACA with negative comments. They do not realize that those negative comments show they do not care that I am alive because the ACA made health insurance affordable for my micro-business owning family for the first time since 1998.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think the ACA is perfect.  I know that upper middle class families who do not have the benefit of employer-paid health insurance are paying much more than they should for their policies.  I know that in many areas, there is a lack of providers accepting ACA plans.   Repealing the ACA would mean that I would once again be faced with the choice of placing my family in debt beyond our ability to repay to extend my life by an undetermined number of years, or allowing the illness to take my life immediately.  Knowing this, brazen anti-ACA comments under my Facebook posts are unkind and show a great lack of compassion.  Yet, it happens, almost every time I post in support of the ACA.

Compassion and Kindness

What does all this have to do with Monica Lewinksy?

Lewinsky is on a mission to bring compassion and kindness to the internet. Watch her TED talk on the Price of Shame, and then take some time for introspection. What can YOU do to help her cause?

There is a way to speak your truth and remain compassionate and kind. It starts with me, and it starts with you.  Be kind.  Be compassionate.  Listen to others when they share their truth, rather than asserting your own truth.  Post your truth on your own wall.  Celebrate others on their wall.

Flush a PICC line with saline and Heparin at home.

How to Flush a PICC Line with Saline and Heparin | Battling Bertha

If you have a PICC line, it needs daily flushing with saline and Heparin to keep the line clean and prevent blood clotting.

A couple of months ago, with the help of chemotherapy nurses Renne and Kim from Greater Houston Cancer Clinic, we created a video with step-by-step instructions on how to flush a PICC line with saline and Heparin for my husband so that he could do the needed task at home.  Kim did a great job filming while Renne walked through the process on camera.

Before beginning the flush, gather your supplies.  Talk to your healthcare team, usually your chemo nurses, about the specific supplies YOU need for your PICC. Here is what we used in the video:

  • Latex-free gloves
  • Alcohol Prep Pad x 2
  • Heparin x 2
  • Saline x 2
  • Steri-cap x 2
  • Towel to keep your clothes dry and clean
  • Bio-hazard collection box

Now watch the video to learn how to flush a PICC line with saline and Heparin:


Video: How to flush a PICC line with saline and Heparin at home #blogboost #cancercare Click To Tweet

Why Flush a PICC Line with Saline and Heparin?

Here is an actual X-Ray of my PICC:

flush a PICC line with saline and heparin at home

Internal View of PICC

“A PICC is inserted in a peripheral vein in the arm, such as the cephalic vein, basilic vein or brachial vein, and then advanced proximally toward the heart through increasingly larger veins, until the tip rests in the distal superior vena cava or cavoatrial junction.” – Wikipedia

Think about it. Why wouldn’t you want something that delivers medicine that close to your heart to be clean and clot free?  I mean, seriously?

Better Blog Graphic made with Canva.

Natural Cancer Therapies with Ann Fonfa | Battling Bertha | Podcast Episode 26

Ann Fonfa is a 22 year breast-cancer survivor who opted-out of most conventional western medicine during treatment.  Ann is the President of the Annie Appleseed Project, providing education, advocacy and awareness on complementary, alternative, natural cancer therapies.

In today’s podcast, Ann shares her personal breast cancer story and how it inspired her to become a natural cancer therapies advocate.  Click the play button in the black bar below the title to listen to the podcast.

3-steps-4-health

Take 3 Steps 4 Health

Take 3 Steps 4 Health

The Annie Appleseed Project advocates taking three simple steps each day to improve overall health:

  • Eat 1 more fruit and 1 more vegetable
  • Take a walk
  • Breathe deeply 7 times before going to bed
3 Simple Steps to improve overall health. @AnnieAppleseed #healthy #blogboost Click To Tweet
Complementary & Alternative Cancer Therapies conference

Complementary & Alternative Cancer Therapies conference

Next month, February 26 – 28, 2015, the Annie Appleseed Project is hosting the 9th Evidence-based Complementary & Alternative Cancer Therapies Conference held  in West Palm Beach, Florida.  Kelly Turner, PhD, author of Radical Remission is one of fourteen scheduled speakers.  For more information, and to register, visit CAM for Cancer.

Also Mentioned:

Connect with the Annie Appleseed Project

Sex After Breast Cancer: Melissa’s Story | Battling Bertha

“Is there any sort of intimacy after breast cancer?”

It is a question that I have read too many times in my online support group.  It is heartbreaking to read just how many women had given up on intimacy.  During breast cancer treatment it is so important to keep as much normalcy as possible, for both the patient and the caregiver. Being intimate is normal.

I decided that I needed to find a way to offer hope to recently diagnosed women, and even the women who have given up on sex.  So, I posted this to the group:

“Sex After Breast Cancer” is my next blog post. Anyone want to offer a quote or advice, anonymously or otherwise?

The replies came quickly and in plenitude.  My heart sunk when the first few were from women who said they had none.  But then the light at the end of the tunnel started to shine and stories of hope appeared.

Melissa’s Story

Melissa preferred to remain anonymous and so I changed her name for this story, the words are her own.

Hello Kandas, I hope you post a link to your blog once you gather enough information.

I was diagnosed Jan 27, mastectomy 2/19, then chemo treatments and I just got next phase of my reconstruction on 9/19. My husband and I have maybe been intimate about 4 times total during the last 9 months. It’s heart breaking. But Neupogen injections added so much bone pain on top of chemo, now tamoxifen takes away any natural moisture. Plus night sweats, hot flashes, my body having numerous scars and fresh incisions, I feel like he is afraid to touch me.

I was 41 when diagnosed, 42 now, too young for all of this, but grateful to be alive. Hoping to find the groove again one day! Excited to hear what other sister fighter/survivors have done to get through this. Thanks for writing about it.

Yes, Melissa, You Can Have Sex After Breast Cancer

It takes time, patience and acceptance that things will be different, and that is okay!  The key is to keep trying.   This may seem like a silly analogy but Babe Ruth’s batting average was 3.42.  That means he struck out nearly 7 out of 10 times.  It’s the same with intimacy.  So what if it doesn’t work out once, or even seven times, the eighth time might be the best sex of your life.  You won’t know unless you keep trying.

42 is too young to give up on intimacy. #sexaftercancer #blogboost Click To Tweet

The women and men in my support group offered great advice and information on useful products.

Julia suggested:  Not sure if this is blog related but I have a BC friend who wrote an amazing book called Intimacy After Breast Cancer (affiliate link) – It is a great book for anyone having to deal with these issues.

Kandas:  Returning to normal is a huge part of recovery.

Julia:  Yes, it certainly is, I am a 2 x BC survivor.  It’s been over 8 years for me… returning to normal takes time.. it is a process that requires time and determination and patience… One day you realize that you are there.

I have so much more to sort through and share.  Look for another post in this series, soon.

More from Gratitude Geek

Disclaimer

This article is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.

Synchronized Holiday Lights and Giving Up on Cancer Treatment | Monday Morning Rant

Ah crap.  I feel a rant coming on….

This morning two separate but equally disturbing tidbits made the hair on the back of my neck stand up: synchronized holiday lights and a fellow breast cancer warrior giving up on treatment because she can no longer afford it.

What Do Synchronized Lights Have to Do with Christmas?

What do synchronized holiday lights have to do with the spirit of Christmas?

What do synchronized holiday lights have to do with the spirit of Christmas?

Seriously…  there is a major television network encouraging people to send in videos of their homes decked out with synchronized lights.

Hello?

I thought that Christmas was the season of giving.

When did it become such a commercialized hot mess that people go out and spend thousands of dollars and countless hours putting lights and timers on their homes to impress whom?  Surely not their neighbors because if anything, it would annoy their neighbors.

My husband, a professional custom furniture maker,  is currently building a memorial chest for the mother of a 21-year solider killed in Afghanistan 2 years ago.   He has built a few of these memorial chests now, never charging more than the cost of the materials.  Why would we want to capitalize on a mother’s grief?

I’m sure Mary, the mother of Jesus, feels the same way about her son’s birthday.

I told you I was going to rant…  but wait…  there’s more!

Giving Up on Breast Cancer Treatment

And then…  just a few minutes ago, I read a Facebook post from a fellow Breast Cancer warrior stating that she is giving up on treatment beginning January 1 because she can no longer afford her insurance and co-pays.

She is self-employed.  Her insurance bill is $600 per month and her deductible is $6500.   She simply can not afford to continue with treatment.

I have so many things I want to say about this and none of them are nice.

This should NOT be happening in the United States of America.  Period.

YO!  TV SHOW that is sponsoring the stupid synchronized lights contest…  how about you sponsor a woman with breast cancer who can’t afford her treatment, instead?

Rant over.

Ringing the Bell after my Final Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer | Battling Bertha #25

Today is Thanksgiving here in the USA.  I have much for which to be thankful this year.

It may seem odd to many that I feel gratitude during a time in which I am battling for my life.  Yet, there are so many reasons to feel grateful.  I found Bertha early.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I have very good health insurance.  I have amazing doctors and caregivers.  My family has been beyond supportive.  My friends have been true soldiers in my battle.  Both my greeting card business, and the custom furniture company I run with my husband, continue to do well.  My cup truly runneth over.

Today, I am filled with appreciation as I share photos from an event that took place 10 days ago, my final dose of radiation therapy for breast cancer.

Ringing the Bell after Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

I received 36 daily doses of radiation therapy for breast cancer, interrupted by a short hospitalization. On November 17, 2014 I celebrated my final therapy session by adding my pink hand print to the wall leading into the therapy room and then an enthusiastic ringing of the bell.

Shanta was there for almost every dose of radiation therapy I received. Her last day at the center was Friday, the 14th, and so she was going to miss my final day. I am so grateful to Shanta for taking her lunch hour from her new job to come and celebrate with me!

Mimi is the receptionist, she keeps things running smoothly in the office and would stash my favorite candy to the side so there was always a piece for me to enjoy before therapy.

Shanta and Mimi

Shanta and Mimi

Dr. Lewis has a big heart and very patiently answered all of my questions. Her nurse, Beverly, was not in the office for my celebration, but it should be noted that she is very sweet and kind, as well.

Dr. Lewis, my Radiation Oncologist

Dr. Lewis, my Radiation Oncologist

Unless you are a regular follower of my blog, you are probably wondering why George Clooney is in the all the photos. I named the radiation machine (linear accelerator) George Clooney. I figured if someone was going to see me naked everyday, it might as well be George Clooney.

This machine is George Clooney

This machine is George Clooney.

Lacey is the lead therapist at the clinic.  Did you know that becoming a radiation therapist requires a 5-year bachelor of science degree in Radiation Therapy and that less than a handful of schools in Texas offer the degree program?  It’s a highly specialized field and requires a warm personality, as well as, smarts.

Lacey, the lead Radiation Therapist

Lacey, the lead Radiation Therapist

The staff at Apollo Cancer Center were all wonderful. Rafael, another of my regular therapists was not there for my final treatment, but you can see a photo of him dressed us Gru from Despicable Me here.  I can’t say that I will miss therapy, but I will always think fondly of the staff.

I can't say I'll miss therapy, but these ladies made it fun.

I can’t say I’ll miss therapy, but these ladies made it fun.

Lacey was inspired to start the tradition of collecting patient hand prints on the wall leading into the therapy room after their final treatment by the clinic where she served her residency. It was rather inspiring to know that all those patients had survived the process before me.

Celebrating with all who came before me.

Celebrating with all who came before me.

I chose to make my hand print pink.

Okay, so survived might be a harsh word.

Pink for Breast Cancer

Pink for Breast Cancer.

It’s not that radiation therapy hurts, it doesn’t. Well, the radiation burns suck. It is just a rather emotional experience.

I'm pinked up and ready to print.

I’m pinked up and ready to print.

I mean seriously, here I am bald, laying on a table with my deformed, scarred breast exposed, while people I just recently met move me around on a narrow table and write with permanent markers on my bare skin.

Choosing to to find the humor in the situation made it bearable. I share more about coping with emotions during radiation therapy in a post from several weeks ago.

I can't believe I let them take pictures of me without my wig!

I can’t believe I let them take pictures of me without my wig!

So, it was not hard for me to take one of those very same permanent markers and sign my name on the wall next to my pink hand print.

It's Official.  I'm done!

It’s Official. I’m done!

After getting dressed, I headed back to the lobby where my friend Tanya was waiting to help me complete the final task. the ringing of the bell:

I am not sure who started the tradition of bell ringing. I couldn’t find much info on Google. If you know how the tradition came about, please share in the comments.  I do know that it was very satisfying to ring that bell.

A huge thank you to Tanya for coming out to celebrate with me!

Thank You Tanya for Celebrating with Me!

Thank You Tanya for Celebrating with Me!

I will probably share one or two more posts about radiation therapy because it was such a huge part of my treatment plan, and I feel like I need to share a little more.  For example, how I treated the radiation burns.  All in due time.

Today, I will enjoy my family and the amazing non-traditional Korean meal I prepared in lieu of turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble! Gobble!

Kandas

Spoiling my Breast Cancer Caregivers | Battling Bertha #23 | #BlogBoost

It’s been a tough week. Recovering from my recent hospital stay has not been easy. As much as I wanted to complete all 31 days of the October Ultimate Blog Challenge, I know my health is more important. I have several posts simmering on the back burner, including a video of my adventure at Gayla Wigs and a possible three part series on sex after breast cancer.

The Breast Cancer Awareness Debate

Many of the amazing women in my online support group strongly dislike the October pink washing called Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They take exception to all the pink products that are capitalizing on the issue rather than helping it.

I recently read a Huffington Post article by Anita Moorjani entitled Why I don’t support ‘Breast Cancer’ Awareness.

My Chemo Nurses as sketched by my talented husband, Shane.

My Chemo Nurses as sketched by my talented husband, Shane.

Moorjani is the author of the book Dying to Be Me about her own cancer journey.  The book was gifted to me by a treasure in my life, Renu Agrawal, shortly after I was diagnosed.  It was also highly recommended by several other people.  I have been hesitant to read it because I don’t like the title.  Is that not silly?

In the HuffPost article, Moojani used a Mother Theresa quote to question the effectiveness of Breast Cancer Awareness:

Mother Teresa once said, “I was asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

Wouldn’t it be better to support and promote health awareness?

When my elder sister was diagnosed with her breast cancer 3 years ago, just 6 months after losing our mother to leukemia, she urged me to get a mammogram.  I did not because I did not want to focus on the illness.  I believe that energy flows where attention goes and I did not want any of my energy flowing in the direction of cancer.

You may be thinking to yourself, well that back fired.  I do not agree.  I discovered my lump early.  Stage 1.  My body let me know it was time to pay attention.

Since my diagnosis, I have chosen to focus on the positive. I have a story to tell. This is just a small part of my story. I envision myself standing on a great stage inspiring people to pursue their passions profitably through my story.

Spoiling my breast cancer caregivers.

Spoiling my breast cancer caregivers.

I admit that I am not always as positive as I’d like to be. My husband is great at pointing out when I am stinking into negativity.

Okay, let me back up to Monday, October 13th and share how I spoiled my breast cancer caregivers.

Spoiling my Breast Cancer Care Givers

Last Monday, I gave each of my breast cancer medical care givers (all 20 of them!) a small gift of appreciation, tied up in a pink bow.  It was my intention to focus on how they are helping me return to health, and for that I am eternally grateful.  I call them my “Boob Team.”

What was remarkable to me was that each person I handed the gift to reacted exactly the same way:  Surprised!  From the receptionists to the physicians, each was almost shocked that I would choose to celebrate them.  Shocked and appreciative.

An interesting side effect of passing out these gifts is that I now receive a lot more hugs from the Boob Team, including the doctors.

My Radiology Team

My Radiation Therapy Team

Not to toot my own horn, but I was already a favorite patient at both the oncology and radiology offices. Now I feel like a rock star.

A new tech joined the radiation therapy team on Monday, as well. I was a little leery about having a man on the team, because of the high level of touching that is involved in the prep process before therapy begins.

I decided the best way to handle the situation was with humor. So, when he reached across my body and uncovered my breast, I said: “Oooh! Thank you! You are the first man to undress me in months.” His response was to thank me for making his job easier.

So here is your challenge from me: During Pinktober choose to focus on breast health, wellness and appreciate the teams of people who care for breast cancer patients.

Energy flows where attention goes.