This post is directed to those of you that are NOT covered by insurance and have found a lump in your breast. This is my story.
Being Self Employed and owning your own business is not exactly the money machine some people think it is. Sometimes it is no different than you living paycheck to paycheck. We have a few months in a year that allow us to get a month or two ahead on our mortgage and other bills. The remainder of the year is a drive and push just to stay current.
Joe is on Social Security and is covered under his Medicare Insurance. I on the other hand have no insurance. The monthly premiums of $600 to $800 for Health Insurance has relegated this expense to a “Luxury” item and not as necessary as our mortgage payment to keep us from being homeless.
My health is good. I don’t live a healthy lifestyle, by any means. I don’t exercise regularly nor do I eat properly. I have been blessed with good genes that enable me to thrive and contribute to society and enjoy my family and friends. I don’t see my personal physician as often as is necessary. I only go to see him if I think “I am dying”. Which tends to mean I get to listen to a lecture at each infrequent visit.
I do the monthly breast self exams, rule out any non threatening symptoms of reproductive health issues by doing research and finding over the counter medicines to deal with yeast infections or odd and infrequent pains in my lower abdomen. So I have made myself a defacto doctor with no qualifications. So I am a “Fool” as a patient.
In early December 2015, I noticed a lump in my left breast when I was in bed one night. I thought it was the bed clothes all bunched up. That lump had not been there in any of my previous self exams. While lying in bed I did a thorough self exam and did, in fact, find a lump about the size of a large grape. It was located below my nipple and under the center portion of my left breast.
“What do I do now?” This was at once frightening and bigger than life. How long do I have? How fast will this grow? How am I going to get treatment? I have no means to pay for any of the procedures. I don’t have Insurance to help with the costs of treatment. There won’t be a doctor anywhere that will take me as a patient with no Insurance.
I chose to keep this finding to myself and not tell my husband nor my family.
Over the months I kept a close watch on the growth of this lump. I dug through the internet for information on Breast Cancer. Symptoms, normal signs, what to look for, what alternatives did I have?
The lump remained the same size through December and January. The lump could be moved if it was uncomfortable when I was in bed. I found I could shift it to a different location when I laid on my left side and had discomfort.
February the lump became the size of a walnut. It was not as easily moved as had been previously but I could still make myself comfortable while in bed.
I watched for any of the signs indicated in my research. My nipple had not inverted (gone inside). I had no orange peel texture to the skin of my breast. I had no pain.
March the lump increased in size to an apricot and was hard. It was no longer movable. I could no longer shift it to a different position within my breast. I looked for further signs as indicated by my research. The nipple was still as prominent as the other breast. No discoloration of the skin, no orange peel texture, and no pain.
Mid March I began to feel a “Hot” sensation in my left breast. It was not painful, just odd. I would get a burning and stinging sensation which would be varying degrees of intensity. Nothing that a couple aspirin would not alleviate. The lump was getting harder and more defined at this time.
April, the frequency of the burning and stinging sensations increased. At times the sensation would last nearly the entire day, then disappear for a week.
May brought changes that were actually seen. My nipple flattened, looked as though it were being pulled inward. It still protruded slightly but had not totally inverted. The lump was growing more and was getting harder. By the end of May the lump was now the size of a large jalapeno pepper. It was no longer round, it was elongating. Located below my nipple and grew to both sides of center, as well as downward to the breast and chest wall.
June changes were even more noticeable to me. My left breast was getting larger than my right breast. When I raised my left arm above my head there was a definite flat line or demarcation of where my breast was different from the right breast. Almost like a shelf holding up the roundness of my breast, where the right breast was normal and spherical. Also, I had a purple bruising or mottling of my skin under my breast about the size of a “Cutie” orange.
Over the months, when getting ready for bed in front of Joe I would pretend that I was looking for or at something as I disrobed. Keeping my back to Joe and I dressed or undressed so he would not have cause to ask any questions. June brought about changes that were now going to be harder and harder to keep this from Joe. I knew he was going to ask what was wrong with me because one breast was very much larger than the other one. There was also some dark pink discoloration (like a blush) on the outer skin of my breast on top.
While in California during our next to last delivery I decided to tell Joe. His reaction made me wish I had kept my mouth shut. The fear in his words and tone was unmistakable. Fear and anger at me for not letting him know sooner was extremely hard to watch and listen to.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” was his one demand. My answer was “We don’t have the money for treatment. I don’t have Insurance to deal with this.”
The next day I told one of my daughters while he told one of our other daughters. That was not pleasant.
Although our daughters were shocked and upset with me for not telling them sooner, the two of them began telling me of my options even though I don’t have Insurance. They helped me to understand that I could get treatment and survive this ordeal because there are hospitals and facilities that specialize in Breast Cancer that have alternative methods of payment. Some facilities offer “Grants” to patients that can’t afford proper treatment and diagnosis of Breast Cancer.
Teaching hospitals would be the best route for me to go. They have staff, both medical and financial, that can help the Un-Insured get the proper treatment necessary. I would have to surrender to being a “Teaching” patient for the doctors and nurses in training but I would get the same care as anyone with Insurance would get.
An appointment with our Family Doctor was made for the Monday after we arrived home from our job. He has treated me for years knowing I don’t have Insurance. I pay as I go with him. Being faced with this huge obstacle it was my doctor’s recommendation that we go directly to the Oklahoma University Emergency Center in downtown Oklahoma City. He cautioned that there may be a long wait before I would be seen and diagnostic tests could be performed.
Let me tell you….I was more scared of being turned away for lack of funds or no Insurance than I was about any Cancer diagnosis. I was terrified of being labeled a “Dead Beat”.
My experience was, shall I say, Unusual! Within minutes of approaching the reception desk I was called to be fitted with the newest fashion in bracelets.
Less than an hour later I was taken for an invigorating ride in a wheelchair to the Ultra-Sound department. The young, petite, woman that was taking me to my next destination was quick of step and had exceptional reflex timing as she avoided nurses with trays coming out of rooms. Visitors and patients wandering the hallways. Avoiding collisions with the nursing staff at their stations when leaving the area for their rounds. The labyrinth of hallways and corridors she took me down were numerous. I was informed of bumps to be encountered in the floor as we wended our way along. I can only liken this exciting tour as “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” without the accident at the end.
After the Ultra-Sound was performed the technician told me she would be contacting a Radiologist to look over my pictures before I would be sent back to the waiting area of hospital admittance.
That ride was a bit more sedate. The young man who was in charge of my tour was just as adept as the young lady was….just not as swift of foot. He was very kind in his manner.
Once arriving at the waiting area of Admittance section I was greeted by the “Traveling Intake” technician. I had seen her on the various floors and hallways I had recently been on. With her mobile desk and computer she was getting information from patients and requesting their signatures. She was now tending to me. Getting me ready for whatever was next.
The Intake Technician had not quite finished with my information when we were beset by a nurse who stated I had to go “IMMEDIATELY” to the Breast Institute for a Mammogram and other testing. Someone there had opened a slot for me to fit in. I was informed that is was “Highly Unusual”.
Joe drove me to the next complex. There I was given a very fancy designer top to replace my blouse. I would be having a Mammogram.
I’ve NEVER had a Mammogram. I was terrified of this. I have heard all the horror stories of this pain inducing machine. The woman that tended to me was very caring and she was informative. She explained how it worked and told me what to expect. Another experience of the day that was more terrifying in my mind than it actually was.
After the Mammogram was completed I was taken to another room to have another Ultra-Sound and biopsies performed on the lump in my breast as well as in a Lymph Node. Joe was in the room with me during this procedure.
Right after the biopsy tissues were removed I was told by the Surgeon present (on the right) that my lump could be malignant. Tests would be done on my tissue samples to verify this and determine what type of Cancer I have.
For any of you that have found a lump in your breast and are faced with this life changing event. Those of you with NO INSURANCE and feel you have no where to turn for help. Get with your Family Doctor, or a doctor you trust, and ask what can be done for you.
THERE IS A WAY FOR YOU TO GET THE TREATMENT YOU DESERVE. Let my story be a guide to you in getting the necessary help sooner than I have done.
I am in the process of waiting for the actual lab results as to which type of Cancer I have. Will I be treated by Radiation, Chemotherapy, or Hormone Blockers before surgery is even considered. I have been in consultation with a “Nurse Navigator” that is helping me to find the best Surgeon to determine my treatment. She is working with my financial information to see which Grants I can use for my treatment. And even if I have to go the route of being on Medicaid during my treatment.
Ask you Doctor or contact your local Health Department to find the FREE MAMMOGRAMS offered for Breast Cancer prevention and assessment. Find your local Teaching Hospital and let them help you with getting a free or low cost Mammogram. If you live in the Oklahoma City area you have access to the Free Mammograms at OU Breast Institute. Call and make an appointment.