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.

Affordable Care Act Saved My Life

Hi!  My name is Kandas and the Affordable Care Act saved my life!

Yesterday I received my regularly scheduled doses of Herceptin and Lupron to keep that naughty Bertha away.  As I was sitting in the infusion chair, IV drip, drip, dripping protein inhibitors into my bloodstream, I was prompted to share the following message to Facebook:

Today is National Uncle & Aunt Day. Over 30 humans call me “Auntie Kandas”.

Today is also my tri-weekly infusion of Herceptin, the pharmaceutical marvel that is keeping Bertha away.

I am alive today because of the Affordable Care Act. The ACA doesn’t give me free insurance. We pay roughly $10k per year for the privilege of staying alive.

Not everyone can afford $10k per year. Does that mean they are less deserving than me? That their life is any less precious?

Social media trainers tell us not to share about sports, politics, religion or sex on our walls.

I am a rule breaker.

I believe health care should be a right and not a privilege. Compassionate societies care for their citizens.

So I am going to continue to remind anyone who follows me on social media that I owe my life to the Affordable Care Act, in hopes that enough people will feel compelled to tell their Representatives and Senators that this partisan bickering needs to stop. That people are more important than politics.

I am looking forward to more little humans calling me Auntie Kandas… And a couple even calling me Grandma… one day.

The ACA is keeping me alive.

I know these Facebook posts make some of my network uncomfortable, even angry. It’s an inconvenient truth that I will keep sharing. I have an 18-year-old daughter who needs me.

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.

Breast Cancer Health Insurance | Battling Bertha 14 | #BlogBoost

I have recently heard stories about women with breast cancer who do not have health insurance, or have been told that their current insurance is inadequate for their care.

Bullshit.

If you are a woman in the United State of America with breast cancer and no insurance, you have options!

In Texas, uninsured women with breast or cervical cancer qualify for a special state Medicaid program. Similar programs are available in every state.

At the end of this post, I will list additional resources for breast cancer health insurance assistance.

My Health Insurance Story

In 1998, I left corporate America and embarked on a journey with my husband.  In the course of 12 months, not only did I quit my job, we also purchased a home, got married, launched a business, incorporated said business, and had a baby.

1998 was a very productive year for us!

Cashmere, my 18-year old office assistant

Cashmere, my 18-year old office assistant

My life as a work at home mompreneur has been exciting, scary, eventful, boring, educational, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  I can’t imagine ever returning to corporate America, working in a cubicle.

As I type this, I am sitting in bed, in my pajamas, with my 18-year old Siamese office assistant, Cashmere, by my side.  The windows are wide open, it is a glorious Saturday morning.

The only regret, if you can even call it a regret, of leaving my job was losing my health insurance.  COBRA was not an option, as it was $800 per month and that was equal to the rent on our apartment.  Hmmm….  let’s see…  do we keep  a roof over our heads or does one of us elect to keep health insurance?  It was really a no-brainer at the time.

While our small, niche, custom furniture business has been relatively successful for 16 years and through 2 recessions, we never quite figured out how to add health insurance to our monthly budget.   Then, the Affordable Care Act was passed.

Affordable Care Act

In January of this year, I began the process of applying for health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

The process is painless, really.  If you are an entrepreneur, you need to be able to prove income.  Your 1040 does NOT prove your income.   You will need to provide copies of your W2s, 1099s, rental income, etc.

We were approved for discounted insurance coverage and given about 15 insurance plans to choose from.  We opted for Blue Cross Blue Shield HMO Silver Advantage, the least expensive option that we felt had the best coverage for us.  Up until this point, Shane and I had rarely even been to the doctor!  I wasn’t worried about HMO vs. PPO, at the time.  I figured for the basic coverage that we might possibly need, an HMO was fine.

Then, I found Bertha.

There is a Lump in my Boob

Less than a month after our insurance coverage kicked in, I grabbed my boobs and discovered a very large, hard, oblong lump.  I showed it to Shane and after feeling it, he gave me a hug.  It was that big and that hard.

That hug is the very moment when my life changed.

My Radiation Therapy Team

My Radiation Therapy Team

I began the process of finding a primary care physician.  The first thing I discovered was the HMOs suck.  MD Anderson, one of the finest cancer facilities in the country, doesn’t accept my HMO.  There is only one surgeon who accepts my insurance and he is over an hour away.  Yetta.  Yetta.  Yetta.

I really don’t want to drag this story down into the negative because I work hard to maintain a positive outlook.  Suffice it to say, it took several weeks of phone calls and hoopla before I had my mammogram.

However, once the mammogram was done, things got easier.   I had a needle biopsy a few hours after the mammogram.   Aside from a few insurance related hiccups, my care and insurance coverage have been more than adequate.  As a matter of fact, my prescription drug coverage is phenomenal.  Most prescriptions are 100% covered.  I love the small cancer center where I go for treatment because everyone there knows me by name.  My radiology team are all friendly and funny.  I loved my surgeon.  My oncologist owns the cancer clinic and graduated top of his class from MD Anderson.

My HMO ain’t so bad, after all.

Obamacare Stigma

I am not sure why, but for some strange reason, I was embarrassed to tell people that we had used the health insurance marketplace to obtain insurance. Perhaps it is the stigma that comes with the term Obamacare. I really despise that term. President Obama is not my doctor nor is he responsible for the choices of the health insurance companies nor the choices of the healthcare providers.

Choice is the key word here. Insurance companies choose to increase their rates and cut coverage. Healthcare providers choose to accept or not accept patients, and insurance plans. The media chooses to spin these stories based on their political leanings. I chose to allow the stigma of the term Obamacare to cause embarrassment.

And then it happened.

I was sitting in a chemo infusion chair, hooked up to a cocktail of life-saving medicines that I would in no way have been able to afford without insurance, when a fellow patient asked one of the nurses her opinion of “Obamacare.” The nurse got about half way through a negative response when I interrupted:

“Obamacare is saving my life. The next time someone asks you about the Affordable Care Act you tell them that without it, I would be dying and not fighting.”

Okay, so that was a little dramatic. I AM a fighter, and I would be fighting, regardless. But, I made my point very clear.

If you are currently uninsured or feel you are overpaying for your current insurance, open enrollment begins November 15th in the Health Insurance Marketplace. Start collecting your proof of income and get ready to apply. Affordable Care Act is very well named. You WILL find a plan that you can AFFORD.

Breast Cancer Health Insurance Assistance

Here is a list of agencies and non-profits that you can contact for breast cancer health insurance assistance:

Health Insurance Marketplace

Texas DSHS Breast and Cervical Cancer Services

Bright Pink – Your Rights under the Affordable Care Act

American Cancer Society

Susan G. Komen Foundation – Understanding Health Insurance

The Breast Cancer Charities – Resources

Kristy Lasch Miracle Foundation – Financial assistance for women with breast cancer under 30 years of age.

Tiger Lily – assistance for women with breast cancer under age 40.

I Have My Fighting Face On | Battling Bertha 8

It’s been a couple of weeks since I laid my heart on the table and exposed my apprehension and vulnerability regarding surgery. Much has happened. I’ve been quiet on social media and haven’t felt like talking on the phone. The easiest way to discuss the past two weeks is chronologically, so here goes:

The Greatest Gift

A housekeeper is the greatest gift you can give to a chemo patient. Seriously.

August 7th, spectacular Sue arranged to have my home cleaned. Shane and Dorothy are tidy, but they do not “clean” well, so the dust and pet fur had settled comfortably in like they owned the place, and it was really starting to irritate me. Sue could not have offered the gift of a clean home at a better time! Chemo patients have a compromised immune system and are cautioned against too much housework to minimize exposure to germs.

Sue is not the first friend to give this amazing gift to me. Judy and Donna had arranged cleanings in the past few months. For which I am beyond grateful!

Charlie’s Angels

My sisters visited the weekend of August 8th. We spent all day Saturday at The Woodlands Mall with Dorothy, back to school shopping. Luckily, there are plenty of places to sit in the mall, so I was able to rest any time I needed. After shopapalooza we walked over to the movie theater to catch Guardians of the Galaxy.

In the lobby of the theater,  Tiger-Rock Martial Arts and Leonardo, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, were offering publicity shots.  My sisters and I are never too shy to strike a pose and quickly offered up our best Charlie’s Angels moves.  Leonardo looks a little confused, eh?

My sisters and I strike a Charlie's Angel pose with Leonardo

My sisters and I strike a Charlie’s Angel pose with Leonardo

By the way, Guardians of the Galaxy was hilarious.

Bertha Butt Boogie

Keep Calm and Chemo On with Nurse Kim

Keep Calm and Chemo On with Nurse Kim

First off, a nod and chagrin to Peggy Vincent for exposing me to the Bertha Butt Boogie song.  Wow.  How I lived 44 years without ever hearing that tune, I do not know!

After my sisters left, the boogie began.

Monday, August 11th was my PET/CT Scan.   This was my second scan, so I knew the routine, brought a book and dressed warmly.

Tuesday, August 12th I went to my weekly lab appointment.  The nurse had trouble accessing my port and had to poke me twice.  The first time I think she missed the port because I could feel fluids flowing into my chest.  It was rather creepy.

Wednesday, August 13th I went in for the first day of my new chemo protocol, Herceptin only.  The lab results showed my white blood cell count was a little low, so the nurses had to have a doctor sign off before they administered the meds.

My port site was still a little sore from being double poked the day before, and I was uncomfortable for the entire infusion.

Nurse Kim was wearing a “Keep Calm and Chemo On” t-shirt which I felt was appropriate.

I will be on this protocol every three weeks for the next year.  Herceptin is a biologic which means my hair will start to grow back soon.  It is designed to inhibit the Her2 protein that is produced by Bertha’s type breast cancers.

Wednesday night Bertha reared that ugly butt.  I hadn’t felt it in a couple of months and I “knew” it was gone.   It is pecan sized when it used to be apricot sized.  So smaller is better but gone is best.  Needless to say the wind was knocked out of my sails and surgery suddenly became urgent.

Thursday, August 14th the clinic scheduled the appointment with the surgeon I found a couple of weeks ago; The only surgeon on my health insurance plan who does breast surgery.  It took a couple of phone calls to get the referrals approved.  I am grateful to the staff at the oncology clinic, as I did not have to be involved.

Friday, August 15th Shane, Dorothy and I met with the surgeon.  Refreshingly, he spent a long time reviewing my test results, explaining things, sharing options and reassuring us.  I think it was the longest doctors appointment I’ve ever had.  Seriously, he spent a good 45 minutes with us, if not longer.  He is a cardiologist and thoracic surgeon by trade but continues to do general surgery, as well.

We scheduled a partial mastectomy for Friday, August 22nd.

Random Musings

Can Guanabana Juice Cure Cancer?

Can Guanabana Juice Cure Cancer?

I had my first taste of Soursop Juice last week.  It was surprisingly sweet for a fruit with the word sour in its’ name.

Soursop, also known as guanabana, is said to be a powerful cancer fighting fruit.  I don’t know if it is true, or not.  But I do believe in yin and yang, positive and negative, black and white, matter and anti-matter.  If there is a natural cause for Bertha, then there is a natural cure for Bertha.  So why not research natural cures?

According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of American, Soursop has not been tested on humans thus humans are cautioned against relying on it as a cure.

Tuesday, August 19th I got to have a little fun!   Wealthy Sisters Network Conroe hosted a Back to School Brunch at The Toasted Yolk in Conroe.   The food was yummy and the fellowship was much needed after the previous week.

After brunch, I went to my weekly lab appointment.  Again, a little trouble accessing the port.  I’ll worry about it after surgery.

Written on the wall of the St. Luke's Medical Center Pre-Op Hallway

Written on the wall of the St. Luke’s Medical Center Pre-Op Hallway

Yesterday, Wednesday, August 20th, Shane and I ventured down to the medical center for my Pre-Op appointment at St. Lukes Medical Center Houston.

The nurses took my history, vitals and did an EKG.  My blood pressure was a little high, as to be expected considering the upcoming surgery.  The rest of my vitals are fine, and my heart is pumping correctly.

The lab sent over the results from yesterday and my white blood cell count is normal, again, so my immune system is ready to fight, fight, fight!

Written on the way of the Pre-Op hallway are the immortal words of Thomas Edison:

“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this:  you haven’t.” – Thomas Edison

I have found my new mantra.

The view from pre-op was lovely.  My surgery will take place in the brown building on the right.  Send me some positive mojo, healing energy and prayers tomorrow between 11 and 1:30 pm Central time.

There will be a little less of me when it is over but my spirit will remain intact.

I have my fighting face on.

Stl Luke's Medical Center Houston

Stl Luke’s Medical Center Houston

What You Should Know about HOMEOWNERS Insurance

Susan Gonzalez

Susan Gonzalez, mother of three, is a Liberty Mutual Insurance Agent based in The Woodlands, Texas

courtesy of Susan Gonzalez

Homeowners insurance provides you financial protection in the event that your home is destroyed or damaged due to unforeseen or catastrophic event. In addition to your home, homeowners insurance also covers your belongings (or personal property) and can reimburse you for medical expenses and liability claims resulting from property damage and personal injury to other people caused by you or members of your family.

A homeowners policy will also pay for additional living expenses (or ALE). ALE will cover your expenses if you are forced to move into a hotel or apartment temporarily because of a covered loss to your home.

TYPES OF COVERAGE

There are two basic types of coverage offered under residential property policies:

ALL RISK (the most comprehensive coverage also referred to as an open peril policy) – offers the broadest protection and covers all perils unless they are specifically excluded by the policy. You should always carefully review the excluded causes of loss section of your policy. Even the most comprehensive policy will exclude certain types of loss (damage caused by flood, for example).

NAMED PERILS – (also known as specified perils coverage) offers narrower protection than an all risk policy and covers only those perils specifically named under the policy. A policy that offers named perils coverage will also contain exclusions to perils named under the policy. If you are thinking of purchasing a policy that provides named perils coverage only, it is important make certain that the policy provides coverage for the perils that most concern you.

PLEASE NOTE: It is not uncommon for homeowners policies to provide all risk coverage on the dwelling and named perils coverage for the personal property. Please visit the OPIC Policy Comparisons Page for more information on the types of coverage offered by specific companies.

CLAIMS SETTLEMENT

Residential property policies also offer different methods of repairing or replacing your property:

REPLACEMENT COST – pays for all necessary expenses associated with rebuilding or repairing damaged property, up to the policy limits, less any applicable deductible amount.

ACTUAL CASH VALUEfactors in depreciation costs to your claim and pays you the costs to replace or repair the damaged property, less this depreciation and less any applicable deductible amount.

PLEASE NOTE: Most insurance companies that offer replacement cost will initially pay for the loss on an actual cash value basis. The company will pay any additional costs associated with the “replacement cost” once repairs have been made to the property, or the damaged property has been replaced.

FLOOD INSURANCE

Residential property policies do not cover damage caused by flood. Most residential property policies define flood to include: surface water, waves, tidal water, storm surge, tsunami, seiche, overflow of a body of water, or spray from any of these.

Flood Insurance can be obtained through your insurance agent from FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program

Important Questions to Ask Your Homeowners Agent

COVERAGE QUESTIONS:

  • Ask what policy they are selling. Is it the HO-B, HO-A, HO-3 or another policy.
  • If it is an HO-A, ask if any coverage has been added to the base HO-A policy. Verify what they tell you with an independent source (such as the OPIC policy comparison chart www.opic.state.tx.us/)
  • If it is another policy (i.e. a company’s national policy) ask how it compares to the HO-B or the coverage you currently have. Verify what they tell you with an independent source (such as the OPIC policy comparison chart)

NEVER take “It’s basically the same coverage as you had before” for an answer.

REMEMBER, EVEN WITH THE AMENDMENTS, THE HO-A IS A NAMED PERILS POLICY AND DOES NOT COVER ALL PERILS COVERED UNDER THE HO-B OR OTHER “ALL RISK” POLICIES.

RATING QUESTIONS:

  • When getting a quote, ask the agent if this is the best rate offered to any applicant by any company the agent represents.
  • If you are not getting the best rate, ask why not.
  • Ask when and how much the company’s last rate increase was.

NON-RENEWAL – Ask about the company’s policy regarding claims and non-renewal?

REMEMBER – check the Texas Department of Insurance website for the company profile (CLICK HERE to go to TDI Company Profiles Page). This profile shows the financial rating of the company as well as the complaint ratio, and any enforcement actions taken by the Department against the company.

 


Susan Gonzalez,  mother of 3, is a Liberty Mutual Insurance Agent based in The Woodlands, Texas.  She offers Home Owner Insurance,  Auto Insurance, Personal Liability Policies, Life Insurance, Renters Insurance, Condominium Insurance, Flood Insurance and can be reached at 832.339.3243.