Another three months in the clear

I went in to Dana-Farber for a 3-month checkup today. First, the new Yawkey Center is amazing. The interior of the building resembles more of a modern hotel than a hospital. The waiting areas are extremely open yet still quiet and comfortable. The only slight I have about the new building is the difficulty of finding appointment locations. I’ll admit, I’m somewhat directionally challenged, however it would have been helpful to know that my appointment locations had changed prior to arrival. I was already running late because of weather related traffic and I probably burned near 30-minutes on foot trying to find my first stop of the day. Thankfully, if you appear lost at Dana-Farber, any staff member within eyesight will ask if you need help finding your destination. Also, the receptionists have never given me any grief for showing up late, but I don’t enjoy being disrespectful of their time.

Regarding my tests, I had a chest x-ray and blood work drawn. The blood work shows that I’m clear. The x-ray results didn’t arrive in time for my oncologist to discuss the results. No worries there. We had a quick chat about how my next visit to Dana-Farber will be with my mom, for her own appointment. I mentioned that her oncologist in NH stated that my cancer can be cured, while hers cannot. I pointed out that the folks at Dana-Farber have never said “cured” to me before. I asked if they ever would. It is likely, but too soon for their standards. I’ll be over 2-years from original diagnosis in June. Something like 90% of testicular cancer recurrence will happen by year 2. This means I’m in pretty good shape.

Per the appropriate nudging, I’ve made an appointment to check my fertility. I’m not looking forward to this, but I need to know for certain. My next appointment at Dana-Farber will be in early June. That visit will include a CT Scan.

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Checkup

I had my 6-month checkup at Dana-Farber last Friday. The good news is that my CT Scan and blood work came back cancer-free. Unfortunately, my appointment schedule was switched back to every 3 months. The original switch to 6 months was a miscommunication between the staff- I need to come in every 3 for the next couple of years.

Part of my visit included a discussion about side effects. In the last few months, I have perceived pain similar to what it was like prior to my orchiectomy. This is “phantom” pain and quite common according to my nurse practitioner. I also brought up fertility. There is a high likelihood that I’m now infertile. My insurance company will need it documented before they’ll cover any expenses related to treatment.

Thank You!

Thank you to all of my sponsors for donating to the 2010 Jimmy Fund walk. Our team raised over $1,000 and my feet, knees and thighs are thoroughly exhausted. We’re definitely going to do it again next year. If you would like to join our team in 2011, just let me know.

Eating healthy, not a cure-all for cancer

I came across an article today regarding healthy lifestyle choices that cure and/or prevent cancer. The implied notion that cancer is primarily caused by environmental factors really irks me the wrong way. There are too many folks out there who toss around claims as if they’re selling a product to consumers. Obviously some lifestyle choices can really cause cancer, e.g. using tobacco products. However, in my case, my oncologist stated that origin remains unproven, but my cancer was likely tied to genetics. Eating twigs and berries would not have prevented it, nor would it have served as a suitable treatment in lieu of surgery and chemotherapy.

Seeking Sponsors

Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund WalkI am walking 26.2 miles (on the same route as the Boston Marathon) to support cancer research on September 12, 2010.

This is a fundraising event  for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, an organization that provided me with the utmost care and support over the last year. In addition to treating patients, the institute conducts research to improve its care and develop alternative treatments that are less invasive and poised for greater outcomes for all types of cancer.

The folks at Dana-Farber, particularly the nursing staff on the infusion floor, are genuinely good people, fulfilling a role that I couldn’t bear on a daily basis. For this reason, I am pleased to support their fundraising efforts, and will soon learn what it feels like to walk 26 miles! I’m pretty sure that I have never walked or hiked more than 13 miles in one day- I think it will take about seven hours, unless I miraculously turn into a conditioned runner!

If you are interested in sponsoring me, please visit my donation page:
http://www.jimmyfundwalk.org/2010/stetson

Steroids & Chemo

Someone asked me the other day what I thought about the alleged performance-enhancing steroids use by Lance Armstrong. Of course I, nor any of you know if there is any real truth behind the allegations. What I can tell you, is that I was on steroids throughout my chemotherapy. It is my understanding that this is quite common and a necessity to make it through treatment. I joked with my oncologist when she first wrote the prescription; saying that I should head to the gym and lift weights. Although steroids might be able to stay in your body for quite some time, I was in no condition to ever take advantage of the situation. This simply leads me to believe that Lance Armstrong should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Life & Disability Insurance

When I finished my undergraduate degree in 2005, my first company offered me both life and disability insurance. Both seemed unnecessary at the time, but I was compelled by what I believed to be a good deal: pay just five dollars or so per month for life insurance coverage worth 5x my annual salary. There were no physicals or medical questions to answer. The premium was based solely on age.

The disability insurance was too expensive I thought, at probably ten dollars per month, so I opted out of that nonsense. That would have provided me with an income at ~60% of my salary in the event that a medical condition kept me out of work.

I was happy to have life insurance when Jess and I purchased our house in 2007. This meant our mortgage would be taken care of in the event something happened to me.

In 2009, when I moved to a new company, I was given the option to take the life insurance policy with me. The premiums would remain the same, but there would be a little bit more paperwork sent to my mailbox at home. I accepted.

Fast forward to 2010, after my cancer diagnosis, treatment, and oncologist’s determination that my cancer is in remission, I’m unable to secure life insurance. SBLI initially offered me a $9,000+/year premium, then eventually outright denied me after I spent hours answering questions, and giving them both urine and blood samples. At $9,000 a year, I’d be much happier owning a Mercedes than an insurance policy!

My cancer diagnosis puts me at too high of a risk to insure even if the term ends in my mid-thirties. Why is this a problem if I already have a policy? It wouldn’t be enough to support a family (e.g. kids) very long, should my income disappear.

Thankfully, my new company has grown quite a bit since my start. This has included the addition of life and disability benefits negotiated for all employees. Again, these are the policies without physicals or medical questions. I jumped at the chance to add both.

The life insurance policy is by no means “set for life” money, but it would provide some time for my family to get long-term financials in order without me.

The disability insurance is a huge addition for me. While undergoing chemotherapy, I missed between 3-4 weeks of work, spread out over a few months. My company was supportive about this, but it helps when you already have three weeks of paid vacation annually. Toward the end of my treatment, I felt ineffective at work. My oncologist and nurses at Dana-Farber thought I should be on medical leave. At many companies, this is unpaid medical leave. Good luck with that if you’re paying a mortgage! This would have been a feasible option had I purchased disability insurance. Looking back, I probably would have gone on medical leave if I had known income would still be coming in. That would have alleviated some of the burden during chemotherapy.

I highly recommend that every young working person grab both life & disability insurance policies from your employers when offered. It is unbelievably cheap, and if you wait until a life changing moment occurs to trigger the purchase, it could be too late and coverage will be denied. It’s worth the five bucks!