In 1984, I was 28 years old and heading into my second year of graduate school. My life was on track and I was happy. By the middle of that year the fuck-up fairy decided to visit. I was diagnosed with Stage III Hodgkin lymphoma. Six months of chemotherapy followed, and a year and a half later I finally graduated with an M.A. in Psychology and a PhD in Shit Happens.
Fast forward to summer 1989, and I’m looking forward to my recent promotion. And damn if it doesn’t happen again: a relapse of the HL, only this time a stage II. Two months of radiation followed. By 1990, I complete the treatment and spend the next 10 years getting yearly CT scans to ensure that the damn thing doesn’t return. And, knock on wood, it hasn’t.
This doesn’t mean, though, that I’ve stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop. The older I get, the larger the shoe looms. The yearly physical, which used to consist of a quick boob pat-down and a probe in your nether regions, are now these huge affairs which include fasting blood tests, bone density scans, colon screenings and, of course, the dreaded mammogram.
Oh how I hate the mammogram–not because it’s a little unpleasant; a few seconds of boob-squishing isn’t a big deal. I hate what it’s FOR. I hate that I watch the face of the technician, looking for the “tell” that my boobs don’t look right. I hate wondering if she took THAT scan at THAT angle because she saw something suspicious. I hate that I spend hours on the internet while awaiting my results, reading breast cancer horror stories and research articles, futilely trying to find some detail, some element that makes me different from them–and therefore safe.
The thing is: no-one is safe. Just lucky. Damn boobs anyway.
All this crazy worry hasn’t been a total waste of time. I found out, for example, that cancer medications are covered only in IV form in Ontario. Oral forms of cancer medications are not covered. (I never knew this before because when I was undergoing treatment back in `84, I was a student under my father’s drug plan.)
Most people have extended health insurance through their employer so that wouldn’t be a problem for them–just for the rest of us who are either self-employed or retired and under 65. Should I or someone like me require cancer medication, I could apply for financial aid through a government-sponsored program, but it’s notorious for its endless red tape and insufficient coverage. The other option would be to move to another province which does cover oral forms of prescription meds. You just have to wait a few months until the new coverage kicks in. (I may get to live in Beautiful British Columbia after all.)
On a funny note (and god knows we need funny notes when talking about cancer screening) I got quite a kick out of the Fecal Occult Blood Test Kit. The instructions in particular.
If you’ve never seen one, it’s a card with three flaps which, when lifted, reveal little squares where you’re supposed to smear your poop. They even supply the little sticks to do the smearing. One can only imagine the kind of samples they get back to prompt these instructions: