The time I had cancer & was neglected by my doctor

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This is the most personal & most difficult article I will ever write.  My name is Amy, I was born in Taiwan, came to the US when I was 4, and grew up here in the states.  I’m a fashion designer, blogger, & writer. If anything else, I’m a cancer survivor.  I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of 25.  Here I will write the story of my illness, my treatment, & my thoughts on our healthcare system.

I remember when I first found I had a tumor on my throat.  I had been working at a crummy job in the fashion industry, that was barely paying me enough for me to make ends meet.  Also it was in the beginning stages of the job, so I didn’t have health insurance.  Looking back now, I can honestly say that there have been times when I went on for years without health insurance, until Obamacare came into place.

I was violently ill one day; I had a vicious bout of food poisoning.  It was the worst case of food poisoning I had ever had.  I went to work, & threw up a few times at work.  I went home, & I threw up some more.  I ended up throwing up 10 times in 2 days.  My boyfriend (now husband) convinced me to go to the doctor, & assured me that I could go to one without insurance, & just pay $60 for a one time fee.  I was adamant about not going thinking that going to a dr. would cost me a fortune, but I relented.

When I saw the doctor, he told me that I had food poisoning.  I had never had it before, & was confused how food poisoning could be so violent.  As he felt my throat he was shocked & told me I had a lump on my throat.  He recommended that I come back for a biopsy, and so I did.

He took it, with 1 sharp needle & a stab to my throat.  I waited for the results, hoping that it was not anything bad.  They called me back in a few days, saying that the sample was not enough, & that I needed to have another one done.  Fed up, I gave up on this doctor.

I told my parents my situation, & they panicked at the thought that I had a tumor & that it might be cancerous.  My father called up a family friend of ours, who had been my primary doctor throughout my childhood.  He told me to go see him right away.

I visited him, he glanced at me and simply said that I was “too young to have cancer”.  And gave me a large bag of vitamins, & sent me on my way.  Of course, as a friend of the family, he didn’t charge me anything.  But then again, he didn’t bother to examine me either.

One time, I visited my parents, who at the time were living in California.  My mother recommended I go see a doctor to resolve my situation, to which I agreed.  I saw an endocrinologist, this time who took 3 biopsies of my tumor.  The results came back & they were negative.  Whew!  What a relief!  I don’t have cancer.  But I do have to take medication to monitor my hormones.

Years later would pass by before I would follow up on my thyroid problem again.  I even went as far to study abroad in Italy, & then come back home to the States.  When I came back to the States, I asked my mother if I could see my family in Taiwan.  (My mother’s whole side of the family is in Taiwan) for I hadn’t seen them like in 5 years.  My mother agreed, & she mentioned that while I was there, I should get my thyroid problem resolved.  She told me that in Taiwan, the healthcare is incredibly inexpensive, and I thought why not?

When I got there I stayed with my aunt & uncle, whom my mom asked them to arrange a visit to the doctor regarding my thyroid problem.  The doctor said my tumor had to come out right away.  I remember my grandmother mentioning it to me at the time, that she also had the same problem a few years ago.  I agreed to undergo surgery; I ended up having a thyroidectomy, where my whole thyroid gland was taken out, along with the tumor.  And it turned out to be cancerous.  To make sure there was no reoccurrence, I was also given radiation treatment.  I ended up staying in the hospital for a few days before I could finally go home.

One of the amazing things about Taiwanese healthcare was how affordable it is.  I think my surgery & hospital stay only cost around $400 US.  The radiation was slightly more expensive, it was about $600 US.  I have no idea really how much it would cost me if I had it done in the US.  At the time, I was just a student who had just finished studying abroad, with no job, & no health insurance.  Radiation by itself would cost tens in the thousands of dollars.  What hope was there for me in America?  And I think what hurt most of all was that my mother blamed my cancer on me: that I had done something wrong to bring it upon myself.  And I never forgot those words that came out of her mouth.

Flash forward to the present: About 2 years ago, our former family doctor (the one who said I was “too young to have cancer”) suffered a stroke.  Coincidentally, he was also traveling to Taiwan.  Being a doctor afford him & his family a nice lifestyle, for they own properties both in New York and Taipei.  Several years ago they started migrating back & forth between both cities.

He had gotten off the airplane & started to feel that he was losing sensation in his arm.  His wife suggested that he go to a hospital & have it checked out.  Everything had begun to slide downhill from there.  He suffered a major stroke & had to be hospitalized.  A man who once owned his own practice, and was an active doctor; could no longer work.  His stroke was diabilitating & forced him to retire.   His wife stayed by his side for a few months before she had to finally return to New York.

And to she had returned to a giant mess: because he was no longer working they had no more income.  There were previous patients of his that were not happy with him, and filed malpractice lawsuits against him.  They had owned a large home on Long Island; & because they were not actively living there she had rented it out to college students, who had left the house in disarray.  So they had properties to pay for, malpractice lawsuits against them, no income, and with the head of the household crippled by a stroke.  She, became depressed & suicidal.  Eventually her daughter had to check her into a mental health clinic for depression.  What can I say?  I guess what comes around does indeed go around.

And what of me now?  For the most part, I’m happy, healthy, & married to my college sweetheart.  I do have to have my annual checkups for blood test, & an MRI done on my throat once a year.  I do have to take synthroid, & calcium every day, for the lack of a thyroid gland.  At the moment, I do have health insurance through Obamacare.  As a great idea as it is, I’ve always believed that our health insurance industry is a broken industry.

Obamacare has been a great idea, for I’ve been on & off health insurance throughout the years.  Some companies are quite unreasonable & pick health insurance policies that are really unaffordable for their employees.  But I still think that there are problems that need to be fixed with Obamacare.  There are still lots of people without health insurance in the US.  And now, in the 2nd year of having it, I’ve noticed something: a nurse once mentioned to me that with The Market place, the insurance companies are paying less, where the patients end up paying more, and I definitely agree.  I by myself pay $400 a month & I still think it’s too much.  Many times I’ve thought of going to Taiwan, where I could qualify for their universal health insurance, which would only be $30 US a month!

And what have I learned from my story?

-Always get a second opinion from another doctor.  If a doctor recommends / doesn’t recommend you to have surgery, your health is always at stake.  In the field of medicine there will always be good & bad doctors.  The key is you get the right information.

-If you need a major operation, consider medical tourism.  I’ve heard stories of people dying because their health insurance rejected their request to get chemotherapy for cancer.  Why do you put your life in their hands?  Especially when you can travel to another country, & get it done for a fraction of the cost?  My operation, hospital stay, & radiation therapy ended up costing me about $1,000 US.  And I think that saved my life.

-To be happy and healthy.  Life is literally nothing without health, because without it everything becomes meaningless.  It’s always important to eat right, exercise, & avoid things like drugs or smoking.  Also our quality of life is measured by our happiness.  The happiest people have the best quality of life.

-Value your family.  I honestly don’t know where I would be without my family.  They have supported me almost my whole life; & they were supporting me through my whole treatment.  Also my husband has always been with me by my side, as I am by his.

I hope I have helped someone by sharing my story.  If you are sick, I hope you get well.  And I hope that we can have  reliable, affordable, health care for EVERYONE, in the US one day.

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