According to the Urban Dictionary, butthurt is “an inappropriately strong negative emotional response from a perceived personal insult.” When you’re subjected to the incredibly dysfunctional American health care system, butthurt takes on a whole new meaning. The realization of how I gave myself cancer after a surprise diagnosis, deciding that a colon resection was the best way to save my life, and realizing it would wipe out every penny I had means my butthurt is literal.
Hit Where it Hurts
I already knew I was going to pay a high price for my $500 a month high deductible health insurance policy. The $950 I had paid for the out of network colonsocopy and the $95 for the out of network pathology wouldn’t go towards my high in-network deductible. The PET scan would get billed at $3,500 (although a CAT scan was performed instead, Amerikan medicine at its best!). The sigmoidoscopy would get billed at $350. Then there would be a chunk of change for routine pre-surgery blood work, a chest x-ray, and an EKG. The colon resection would be billed at approximately $4,000 for the surgeon, $2,300 for the anesthesiologist, and the hospital stay would be billed at $2,000 a day. Yes, there was a moment of “price of my life” sticker shock that my wallet wasn’t prepared for.
Since finishing my undergrad in May, I’d been focusing on eliminating my student debt. I had small emergency fund that had already been pillaged by a recent unexpected expense, and then there was the working capital I’d saved to fund a venture I’d been working on since January. My pitiful cash reserves were nowhere near enough to cover the medical expenses I was about to incur, no less the much needed self-employment revenue to pay bills that would be lost during recovery.
My surgeon’s office was told me that I would be in the hospital three to five days, and that I would be able to resume normal activities about a week after surgery. I assumed (silly me) this meant minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, and that by three to four weeks post-surgery I would have resumed a completely normal activity level. Based on this, I had arranged for one week with no work with the expectation of reduced hours the second week and a normal workload by the third. Given the medical expense and reduced income expectation, I delayed surgery for a month so that I would have enough cash to cover the high deductible and living expenses during recovery without destroying all of my liquidity.
I found out I had been hoodwinked during the pre-admissions appointment just three days before scheduled surgery. This is when I learned that during surgery, my gut would be sliced open to create an incision large enough for the surgeon to pull my colon out with his fist, and I would be left with a scar that would look like I had a cesarean section in 1960. I was also told that the hospital stay will really wouldn’t be just three days because I won’t be able to walk unassisted for the first two days after surgery.
The next horror was their definition of “normal activities”. While never assumed “normal activity” meant I would be back in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class a week post-surgery, never in a million years would I have thought that “normal activities” meant being able to go up and down stairs, albeit very slowly. The icing on the cake was being told that I wouldn’t be able to drive for at least two weeks because it’s quite possible that something as simple as putting on the brakes could reopen the incision. While I appreciate their strategy of getting commitment and waiting to disclose details until uncommitting would be difficult, I was furious. Butthurt indeed.
Pariah Syndrome Double-Whammy
The strain of dealing with a fundamentally broken healthcare system and figuring out how to pay for it paled in comparison to the sociological strain. I was so looking forward to alleviating the extended social isolation from years of working horrific hours to graduate while working horrific hours to keep a roof over my head. Given human propensity for pariah syndrome, the discouraging realization that the social isolation was not over took its toll.
Pariah, by definition, means outcast, untouchable, rejected. Pariah syndrome is a social disease that causes people to shun and/or condemn even old friends who have a serious illness or who have suffered a tragic loss. Perhaps they avoid you because they don’t know what do say, or perhaps they avoid you because speaking to you means they have to face their own mortality. Then there are those who are quick to pronounce their harsh condemnations about what you did do and/or what you didn’t do that brought all your suffering upon yourself. Somehow they feel better about themselves after they’ve told you all the hell you are going through is just what you deserve.
I consider myself fortunate that despite the years of social isolation I did have two friends, both just barely over the “acquaintance” line into “friends” territory, for social support. This meant I had to be careful how much I asked of them. I had to be careful not to talk too much about the overwhelm, the panic, the fear, the grief, the sense of loss, the sense of a completely wasted life, the frustration of navigating a fundamentally broken health care system, or the exasperation of medical errors and abnormal test results that threatened even more tests. Sharing my tears, sharing my fear, sharing the miserable depression that accompanies social isolation would have been too much to ask. That meant sucking it up.
That Which Does Not Kill Me…
It’s not uncommon for people to be surprised that I have the constitution of ox. I think it’s funny when they think I was born with way. I wasn’t. What made me strong is a long history of heartwrenching trials, tribulations (often for choosing what was right over what was easy), and figurative beatings (most frequently for being an “uppity woman”). I learned a long time ago, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.
I’ve had decades of practice sucking it up, so I was well prepared to put on the daily facade which gave no clue anything was wrong. I didn’t explain appointments or days off for procedures to co-workers, and acted as if doing so was an acceptable social norm. I was careful to share only the technical details with the one client who needed to understand the excessive outside appointments during business hours and the coming extended absence.
I chose not to tell any of my children that I had colon cancer, or that I would be undergoing major surgery to cure it. They are all successful professionals with very busy lives who all live in different states, none of which are Arizona. Telling them just would have stressed them out, no less added a dimension of drama that would exceed my personal “no drama” zone. They would stress, and then I would have to manage their stress on top of my stress. Telling them after I recover would be best for everyone.
I also chose not to tell any of my co-workers in the hospice palliative care unit where I volunteer on Sunday mornings. Certainly I won the lottery being born in this country at this time in human history, but the daily grind has a way of eroding our appreciation of how luxuriously we live. Being reminded weekly that I wasn’t yet on my death bed helps me be grateful for everything I do have, and it also helps me keep the little things that can blow out of proportion in perspective. Early stage colon cancer with a very promising post-surgery prognosis in light of the hospice patients in the unit with varying degrees of deathbed suffering seemed trivial. I just told them I would be out for a few weeks.
Why I’m Sharing Now
A lot of thought went into the colon cancer “who do I tell, what do I tell them, and when do I tell them”. My colon resection surgery is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. today. By the time most people read this, this life saving surgery will have “cured” my stage 0/stage 1 colon cancer. There is a 93% chance it will never come back.
I am sharing now because by 6:30 p.m. today (if I survive surgery), I am a cancer survivor, not a victim, which eliminates the pariah syndrome factor. I am sharing now because I think I have a moral obligation to provide you with the opportunity to learn from my experience so you (or someone you love) doesn’t have to suffer as I’ve suffered, or worse.
1. Early Detection is Critical
Early detection and surgical tumor removal consistently provides the highest cancer cure rate, most often somewhere in the 90th percentile. Early detection is key. As cancer progresses, the cost of conventional and alternative treatments skyrocket while the quality of life and survival rates plummet. Again, early detection is key.
Although I’ve whined about my surgical stage 0/stage 1 cancer cure running somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000, that CHEAP compared to the annualized mean initial $51,327 cost of treating colorectal cancer (source here). That’s because early detection means there is no need for continuing treatments, such as alternative medicine with IVs that can run $3,600 or more a month, or chemotherapy that can run as much as $100,000 a month. Early detection costs less across the board.
2. Over 50? Get a Colonoscopy
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Only lung cancer and bronchial cancer take more lives than colon cancer. Breast cancer is third, and prostate cancer comes in fifth (see stats here).
While I had symptoms, not everyone does. Colorectal cancer almost always strikes after age 50, however the number of people under 50 with colon cancer is increasing at an alarming rate (see a recent study here). If I had undergone annual colonoscopies, the cancer in polyp would have likely been discovered in early formation and would have not spread to the colon lining. That means that my colon cancer could have been cured with a simple colonoscopy instead of major surgery followed by two weeks of wishing I was dead.
So why didn’t i get an annual colonoscopy? I knew one person fairly well who had a botched colonoscopy that left her permanently disabled, and Google will tell you that botched colonsocopies resulting in permanent damage or death are not uncommon. I had also heard about RNs observing gross malpractice (i.e. doctors not removing polyps then telling the patient nothing was found). I wasn’t too willing to undergo any more unnecessary procedures (I have many stories), especially one that could leave me handicapped. If you’re over 50 and haven’t had a colonoscopy in more than a year, get one scheduled today with doctor who is a highly rated specialist.
If you’re under 50, be sure to get a fecal occult test every year. Fecal occult tests look for blood in the stool. It’s cheap, non-invasive, and will help ensure the early detection that could save your life.
3. Don’t Feed Cancer
Don’t forget how I gave myself cancer. While being “Mrs. Cuervo” for years didn’t do me any favors, there is no doubt it was the massive amount of sugar that caused and fed my colon cancer’s ravenous metabolism. Cancer LOVES sugar. Period.
Main stream medicine will dismiss sugar’s role in cancer by correctly stating that “all cells need sugar”, dismissing the respectable number of peer-reviewed studies have demonstrated that reducing blood sugar slows cancer growth. Main stream medicine also states that sugar “doesn’t necessarily” lead to cancer. Granted, all cancers are not caused by sugar, however the inference that sugar does not cause cancer is simply not true.
A growing number of recent studies are finding that excess sugar consumption actually DOES cause cancer. This 2014 peer reviewed study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation concluded that indeed sugar consumption does cause cancer.
Not only can sugar cause cancer, cancer consumes blood sugar at 19 TIMES the rate of normal cells. 19 TIMES! To help your body fight rogue cells that can become cancer tumors, eliminate refined sugar as much as possible from your diet, and limit intake of high glycemic fruits and vegetables.