Lincoln County News
April 8, 1999

"LifeLines" My journal about living with cancer

by Sandy Labaree

This journal submission describes my concerns about upcoming changes in my health insurance. A cancer vaccine trial may be in my future. Two restaurants get reviewed and 85 peeps find new homes.

March 25, 1999: Ben and I start our day at an insurance office in Portland. We are meeting with the agency that handles the health insurance policy for Ben's employer. Six days from now, we will be going on a new plan which differs significantly from our current Blue Cross policy. I have asked for this meeting to review the differences between the old and new policies. I may decide to continue with Blue Cross on an individual basis if the new plan does not adequately meet my medical needs.

The agency representatives explain the policy differences, but looks of concern cross their faces when I mention my medical status and emphasize that I must have a "seamless transfer" of coverage. Last year, during an insurance switch-over, it took nearly a month and a half to get the paperwork and billing straightened out. In addition, I made numerous phone calls to Blue Cross begging them to speed up the issuing of my insurance ID card. As most folks know, you don't dare enter a doctor's office, hospital or pharmacy without one of these cards. Otherwise, expect to pay for services out of your own pocket.

The insurance representatives think my medical situation is urgent enough to assign me to a case manager. They say they will do their best to get me a temporary certificate of insurance, but they don't know how long this will take. Not a very reassuring answer when I know I have upcoming doctor visits and no ID card.

On the positive side, Ben's employer personally responded to my concerns about the insurance change. Knowing that I lost $3000 in an insurance change last year, they have kindly offered to compensate the out of pocket expenses that I will lose in transferring to the new policy. It is a tremendous relief knowing I will be spared the financial predicament I was in last year.

I am visiting my surgeon, Dr. Lisa Minton, this afternoon. Thankfully, this appointment will be covered by my old insurance policy. Good news regarding my mammogram: Though film of the implant side is unreadable, the mammogram of the breast is unchanged from the September films. Microcalcifications are apparent in several areas, probably formed by scar tissue from my reconstructive surgery. Dr. Lisa will continue to monitor the situation and I will return in three months for another physical examination. I am thrilled that I will not have to go through another biopsy. In the past, I have had two biopsies for calcifications. Each time it created more scar tissue and led to the formation of more calcifications. A vicious circle.

March 26, 1999: After comparing policies, I have decided to go on the new PPO insurance plan with Aetna. Time will tell if I have made a mistake in choosing this plan. Today, Dr. Tom calls to report that he has spoken with doctors at Dana Farber about my elevated tumor levels. He says that I may be eligible for some clinical trials at Dana Farber. Currently, they are conducting trials on new hormonal drugs and a cancer vaccine.

Tom feels that the cancer vaccine trial may be worth investigating. It is a Phase I Study which is the first process that a drug or treatment must go through in determining efficacy and safety. The cancer vaccine trial is assessing whether a vaccine made of a mixture of carcinoembryonic antigen peptide-1 (a protein isolated from cancer cells), and an immunologic component called Detox-PC can induce or boost immunity to the cancer cells. It's is all very high-tech, but if it works, it could lower my tumor marker levels. In this dose-finding study, patients will be given increasing doses of the vaccine until certain toxicity levels are reached. Patients receive injections of the vaccine every 4 weeks for a total of 3 injections and are closely monitored. Doses will be adjusted in response to toxicity levels.

Tom will be calling me back next week with more information. In the meantime, I will continue on the wonderful weight-inducing drug, Megace. I also made an appointment with Dr. Craig Bunnell, the doctor at Dana Farber that Tom recommended. Dr. Bunnell's office asked me to bring my records and x-rays with me on April 13th. I will need a truck to transport them all.

March 27, 1999: I am quite proud of myself for sitting through five hours of the Wiscasset Town Meeting today. I knew I could not sit for the entire day with my back pain, so I took one pain pill and managed very well. Poor Sue had to be present for the entire meeting in her reporter role. Despite my aches and pains, I made an effort to do my civic duty, getting out to vote yesterday and attending Town Meeting today. I grew up in a town that did not have Town Meetings. In Wiscasset, we are very lucky to have a small community where folks can speak their minds and participate in decision making. Town Meeting is democracy in it's purest form.

Paul, Sue, Ben and I are doing our restaurant review tonight instead of our normal Friday routine. Tired from the long day at Town Meeting, we decide to dine locally at Le Garage. I just made our reservations when Charlene calls to ask if we have dinner plans. She and Tom have been riding around car-shopping/browsing, their favorite pastime. I tell them to drive over and join us at Le Garage.

We have a good dinner and a really fun evening, even though Sue is in a catatonic stupor from taking over eight hours of notes at Town Meeting. Paul and Ben order the Finnan Haddie, Sue has haddock, I order the stuffed sole, Charlene has teriyaki chicken, and Tom tries the lamb kabobs, all the light supper versions. We spend most of the evening laughing over Tom and Charlene's recent wall-papering adventure. Last weekend, Tom decided to re-paper their hallway and stairwell himself. The job required scaffolding and someone's assistance in holding the ends of 14 ft. long strips of wallpaper. Charlene had planned on skipping out on the home improvement project. She thought spending a day at the mall was preferable to hearing Tom The Tool Man swear or make a huge mess. In the end, Charlene decided to stay and help. She ducked falling tools and had a few mishaps in sticking the paper down before Tom had it lined up. Despite a few fights, they both survived and the job came out quite well.

Charlene then entertains us with stories about life at Shop 'N Save in southern Maine. She tells us about a customer who came in during last year's ice storm looking for copies of all the supermarket tabloids. When informed that the delivery trucks had not been able to get through on the icy roads, the customer became irate at missing the latest news. Another time, Charlene had a male customer walk in wearing only a black slip and sneakers. Just a few weeks ago, a young man and woman had to be removed from the men's restroom for engaging in amorous activities not permitted at Shop 'N Save or in public, for that matter. Charlene should write a book and call it, "Life In The Check-Out Lane".

March 30, 1999: Tonight, we are meeting Big Al and Melissa for dinner. On Sunday, Ben and I went over to Big Al's store with my box of 85 peeps. I talked Big Al into wearing a pair of pink rabbit ears and handing out boxes of peeps to children in his store. I was determined to get rid of the peeps before Easter. Last week, I tried to donate my peeps to Head Start, but because peeps don't meet the federal nutritional guidelines, they wouldn't accept them. By the way, this is the same federal government that considers ketchup a vegetable.

We have not gone to dinner with Al and Melissa in months. We used to go out with them frequently, but they have been so busy with their store, building their new warehouse and other commitments that we have fallen out of our old routine. Tonight, we travel to A-1 Diner in Gardiner. This is a great little place that Al and Melissa introduced us to about four years ago. It has maybe ten booths and some seats at the counter. The food is wonderful and two menus are offered. The diner menu is typical diner fare with burgers, meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and breakfast items. We always order off the special menu board which features ten or so very creative selections. Big Al tries the bleu cheese meatloaf, Melissa orders the Mo Shu, and Ben and I select the chicken and sausage gumbo. All are absolutely delicious! A-1's soups and special entrees feature an interesting mix of ingredients, are always flavorful and sometimes spicy. You must save room for dessert because all are homemade and many contain chocolate. Al chooses the oreo cheesecake, Melissa and I are in heaven with the Amazon bread pudding made with left-over Amazon cupcakes which are chocolate with a cream cheese filling, and Ben pronounces the apple crisp the best ever! My readers have now been treated to two restaurant reviews in one week.

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