Saturday, November 11, 2006


For much of my life, I've been relatively glad that I haven't won (or played) the lottery. That's right. It always seemed to me that I had pretty darned good luck, but in a mild way; and I worried that any exceptional good luck (like a multimillion jackpot) would have to be offset by a commensurately horrible experience.

As you can imagine, since March 13, I've been thinking that now is a fine time to start playing the lottery.

My diagnosis was a piece of really crappy luck. And everything that has happened as a consequence is stuff that I would happily forego, if only I didn't have to have this diagnosis. And yet, it turns out that the luck baseline changes once the diagnosis is here. Although it's always sounded ludicrous to me that flood victims, for example, praise God for getting them through the flood alive (I think, shouldn't you be pissed at God for sending you a flood??), now I understand. A horror strikes, and you don't get to use your old frame anymore.

So then, I think, I've been very lucky. I was lucky that the tumor was only half the size that the doctors thought before surgery. I was lucky that there was no spread into my lymph nodes, and no metastasis. I was lucky that my veins held up to the chemo, and I never had to get a port or a pic line. I was lucky that my skin had no problems with the radiation. I was lucky with timing: we delayed the start of chemo until I finished teaching in spring, and I started teaching in fall two weeks after the end of chemo. So I lost a summer--but I've otherwise been able to stick to the normal seasonal schedule of my life. And I was lucky that it was summer when I had to sit nauseated on the couch, since I was not expected to be anywhere by my job, and could continue getting paid without having to take formal leave--working when I could manage to. Think of the incredible luck, and luxury, of that.

And I've been phenomenally lucky--in the sense of "the harder I work, the luckier I get"--because I am well insured and had planned well. Two years ago, we switched insurance plans into the most powerful and flexible PPO that USC offers. This year, I'd put extra money into our medical spending account (thinking we'd get lots of eyeglasses and physical therapy). Also, though I didn't end up needing it, I signed up for the supplemental disability plan. All of this means that I have had virtually no financial concerns through this whole process. My out of pocket maximum for the year is just $1000, and much of that was covered by the spending account, so we've probably written less that $200 in checks so far. If I needed to go on disability, I would get something close to 6 weeks at full salary, and after that would get over 50% of my salary.

I contrast this with the experience of my aunt, who has had to go through treatment for cancer without private insurance, and who has had to forego certain treatments or certain drugs--or be told that she can't be treated with a new protocol until she gets substantially worse, because that protocol is so expensive that it can be provided for her only if her need is dire. She owes tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars to her oncology hospital, and the only asset she can maintain as a result is her home.

Cancer treatment is brutal and unhappy anyway (even if I sounded chipper). When I hear other people's horror stories about insurance denials, high bills, and struggling to work throughout chemo, I feel astonished and relieved that things have been so "easy" for me. Lucky, lucky.

Oh, and last week I had my first three-month check--blood tests and physical exam. I got the all clear until late January. I'm in Philadelphia at a conference, feeling energetic and healthy and fully involved in my life again. Lucky, lucky.


Heidi and Sarah Face The Day said...

Happy you are feeling lucky! So glad you have the clear through January. Live it up girly! S&T&A

Anonymous said...

And I'm so lucky to have you!

Sean Spence said...

Congratulations on your continued good luck, Jenny. I'm sharing your story through my Blog, SharingOurDay. Having MS I've found comfort in the stories of others, and I think folks will like what you have to say.

Take care, and continued good luck.

- sean

Sean Spence

rebecca flowers schamess said...

Jen, I'm so glad and relieved to read this post. Post a pic sometime soon so we can all enjoy your smiling face. They say that suffering leads us to compassion, and gol darn it if it don't seem to be true.

camsex said...

Good Job! :)