THE BLOG

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 9 in a Series of Cancer-Related Commentary

10/15/2013 07:08 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014
  • James Stack Poet, 'Pleasures and Seasons of Vermont;' and memoirist, 'World’s Fair'

Gliding around in a grimy gondola...

I found myself at cycle three of chemotherapy realizing it was to be my Battle of Gettysburg, which was fought over three days (July 1-3, 1863), and became the turning point of the Civil War. This three-day cycle is anticipated to be the mid-way point of my "Battle with Cancer," the turning point of my chemotherapy. I don't expect President Obama to give an address at the end, although he has been making quite a lot of speeches recently.

While we waited for cycle three to arrive, we watched via our Apple TV Netflix connection, Breaking Bad, the TV series that won this year's Emmy for best drama. The premise, for those who may not know, is a 50-year-old male high-school chemistry teacher with Stage IIIA lung cancer (he never smoked), who starts "cooking" crystal meth in order to both pay for his medical bills and leave his family with money -- doing battles with both good and evil. The first two seasons show him receiving chemotherapy and some of the side effects. Knowing that chemo affects everyone differently, I still found myself mystified at his not being fatigued or having chemo brain. But I'm willing to suspend belief for a TV show.

This was also during the time, which as of this writing continues, that our Republican House of Representatives has been playing games -- more like skirmishes so far -- with whether or not to fund the government in order to fund programs Congress has already voted to approve. I know, it sounds crazy to think that our government will vote for programs that cost money and then not want to pay for them. If I thought I could go out and max out my credit cards and not have to pay for them then I'd be shopping instead of writing this, especially if I had the power to increase my credit line once I had maxed it out. It's interesting how the battle lines are similar to those from our Civil War -- white/black, north/south -- in a manner of speaking.

And then I started to receive my medical bills. Even after the insurance company payments have been deducted, this is something for which no one can prepare you. Suspending belief -- cooking crystal meth -- started to make sense to me. Or, like the Republicans in the House of Representatives, could I simply decide I don't need to pay my health care bills? But, unlike the star of Breaking Bad, I'm not a chemistry teacher, so being a bald badass doesn't suit me, and although I drink tea every morning (instead of coffee), I'll never be a member of the Tea Party. Are they really Republicans or a new political party masquerading as GOP? And is it Speaker Boehner who is the hostage? But I digress.

Like Walt in Breaking Bad, I have health care insurance from my employer, and like Walt's wife, Skyler, discovers about their insurance, I'm still liable for the deductible, copay and coinsurance portion of the medical fees. And here I'd been thinking I've been saving for retirement, while all along it was to pay these medical bills. I placed a call to my insurance and was told I had an 80 percent/20 percent plan, so my portion of the coinsurance was 20 percent. After cleaning myself off, I explained that I thought I had a deductible and once that was satisfied I didn't owe any monies. What I found out is that I have an in-network/out-of-network, out-of-pocket coinsurance (quite a few hyphens) maximum, which would be the most I would have to pay.

While it made me feel slightly better, a few words of advice: 1) Find out about the details of your medical plan before you start any major medical, and 2) Plan for both retirement and major medical issues before you get sick as cancer can strike at any age.

And so, after watching battles on Breaking Bad and in Washington, D.C., we came to chemotherapy cycle three -- my Battle of Gettysburg. It should be noted that I have yet to pay for the first two chemotherapy cycles. But if Congress won't pay, maybe I won't either... You may be asking yourself, "Didn't he know chemo would be expensive?" Sure, everyone knows, but then they don't.

The treatment protocol for cycle three was the same as cycle two described in Part 7. But wouldn't you know there'd be a battle with my veins as the IV didn't want to participate. The third try was a charm. Afterwards, I sailed through thanks to the pre-meds (steroids, nausea meds and the like), but once day four and the Neulasta (pegfilgrastim) shot had been fired, I was slammed and left lying on the battlefield. From head to toe, I ached from bone marrow pain, accompanied by a low-grade fever putting me in a state of malaise. The dizziness upon standing continues, fatigue is ever present, and my hair has been falling out -- thinning is the technical term as it is not coming out in clumps. On a good note, my fingers and toes no longer tingle.

And I can't seem to shake chemo brain. Concentrating is difficult, as my mind will either wonder or lose track of what is going on. This leads to my being disoriented and frustrated since I'm not sure what has happened or been said unless I write it down as it happens. It is difficult for me to keep up my side of a conversation because I'm forever forgetting what I was talking about, which basically makes me feel stupid. Writing these postcards takes hours upon hours of rereads and rewrites to ensure they make sense.

And after any big battle, there come moments of depression. I honestly didn't think I'd get depressed, since I had planned on being the special cancer case without any side effects. But I'm only human. My medical staff wants to prescribe drugs Lexapro (escitalopram) or Celexa (citalopram), but I'm holding off until I know how cycle three completes and because of the side effects of taking these drugs. We also discussed cognitive therapy for my chemo brain which is typically provided post chemotherapy; but we may begin it earlier given how I am responding.

Timing: November 4 through November 7, Cycle Four of chemotherapy.

Oh, and Nancy Davis, Myrena, Karen Trombley, Amy Hall, Megan Howe, Janet Stender, Patricia Momot, and Sara Roebuck have been added to my list of angels here on earth.

Gliding around in a grimy gondola....

Postcards From Lebanon: Part 1
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 2
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 3
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 4
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 5
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 6
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 7
Postcards From Lebanon: Part 8