Thursday, March 11, 2010

Full-Time Patient

I’ve been out on medical leave now since Feb 8, just over a month, though it seems like forever since I’ve been at work. Being on leave is an interesting journey in itself. I thought that I would never be able to stop thinking about my work responsibilities, to stop worrying about deadlines and projects that I was managing. What I’ve found is that my mind is so filled with cancer-related and life-sustaining information that I don’t even have room to think about work.

This revelation has just reaffirmed my choice to step away fully and completely focus on my health and all that goes into regaining it. Mentally I wouldn’t be able to give my job the attention that it deserves and the devotion that I require of myself in my career. Practically, with all the required hospital stays, the blood work appointments every other day, my forced quarantine, and the debilitating days when I am completely wiped of energy would make it impossible to work. It’s only going to get harder next month when the one-hour treks to Yale-New Haven hospital begin.

What makes it easy to step away is knowing how capable, intelligent, and adaptable the team I work with is. For someone who may be a bit Type A, it is greatly reassuring to know that all the projects I was working on are in extremely capable hands. I do feel awful adding to the already full hands of my co-workers, but not once did they instill guilt upon me and immediately told me I was ridiculous when I would make any attempt at apologizing for having to step away. They practically pushed me out the door telling me that I need to focus on myself and to not think about work for a minute. I know that this is not the case everywhere, and I feel so lucky to have that support. Knowing that people have my back helps me to stand up tall when I’m feeling unstable.

Though my job is protected through the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an unfortunate reality is that though I’ve been paying into a Short-Term Disability policy with an outside company, I can’t tap into it. I got a harsh denial letter in the mail citing a pre-existing condition clause that states that my policy will not pay out for anything related to a pre-existing condition until I've held the policy for 12 months. Though it would pay only 60% of my salary, that’s 60% more than $0 so it hurts the wallet. But it’s the principal of it, the discrimination toward those who are deemed “disabled” that burns me up much more than the missed Benjamins.

I had a long conversation with the head of sales for the brokering company that set me up with the plan. Turns out Craig taught both of his daughters and he was their absolute favorite teacher. Well, favorite teacher or not, there was nothing they could do to convince the big firm to pay out my policy. The clause was something that was not revealed to me and the details of it something that certainly were not made clear. I distinctly remember the day I signed up during open enrollment. I was still wearing a scarf on my head and I asked very pointed and direct questions about this very thing – already experienced with being denied life insurance because of my “pre-ex”, as these salespeople flippantly refer to my condition.

We discussed that there were no medical questions asked for the policy, that it was guaranteed issue, and the sales rep and I specifically discussed my cancer and how this policy would give me the capability to not have to work during my treatment.

I remember him saying: “Chemotherapy is awful. Would you have worked during it if you still could have gotten paid without working?”

Well, what I find out now is yes, I’m covered if I break my leg, if I have a heart attack, but anything cancer-related? Nope, sorry. Denied. And this will be the case for 12 months.

The brokering company was very empathetic and apologetic for the confusion caused, which I appreciate. Though, it still means no cash flow. It is what it is and it’s an unfortunate reality that comes with a condition like this. The fact that anyone has to deal with something like that on top of everything else is a sad statement on our society’s attitude toward those with a disability.

Living with one income is an adjustment, especially as the medical bills pile in and the house expenses inevitably continue. Insurance or no insurance, out-of-pocket medical expenses are no joke. Life continues whether you have one paycheck or two. Now that we finished our taxes and I’m armed with our 2009 numbers we’ll be applying for some co-pay and medical bill assistance from a slew of cancer foundations and charities that offer it. We’re certainly not the first ones to run into these issues, and it’s assuring to know that there are so many resources out there. Whether we’ll be granted any assistance is another story, but it’s worth a good, college try. If not, we’ll make it work. I suppose this is what rainy day funds are for. My heart just aches for those who are going through this on their own with no income, no insurance, no job waiting for them when they get better.

Though it’s only been a month, knowing that I don’t have an income right now causes me to think differently about everything and to be much more conscious about where our money goes. Yesterday, I sewed up a hole in a sweater, rather than buying a new one, all by my nondomestic self. I’ve been getting creative with cooking meals at home rather than going out and am working on squelching my affinity for bargain clothes shopping … the “but it’s only $10” mentality. For example, today I brought my “free panty” coupon into Victoria’s Secret and walked out with just my free panty as much as the sales woman tried to convince me to use the $10 off a purchase that also came with the coupon. It took a lot of self-restraint not to make that purchase, which inevitably would have cost me $20 that I wasn’t planning on spending … I always fall for that trap.

My husband’s knack for bartering and negotiating has come in handy as he’s made calls to our utility providers pulling the “cancer card” and getting them to reduce our rates. Plus, he’s starting to sell some of his phenomenal wood wall hangings that he crafts which is great for him as an artist and for our bank account.

I know we’ll be fine. But while we live through these few months of limited means I have no doubt that it will teach us some valuable lessons. There’s something to be said about having a thinner wallet and big dreams. You find new ways to get there.


  1. I totally understand your pre-ex situation. I have Behcets and went 2yrs undiagnosed before finally diagnosing myself and finding dr's to help me. I applied for SS disability and fought for 3yrs to get it, they paid all the way back to when I first should have been approved. They have a fairly new compassion allowance specificly to expedite cases for those with cancer. It's definately worth checking out. I hope that this helps you, also if you are on SS for 12months you qualify for medicare. I know different people have different opinions about SS but it's a program that you've paid into if you've worked. HUGS take care!

  2. As an Used Book addict, your poignant column reminded me that our community libraries are a valuable resource and easy way for us to cut back on expenses! I believe you can check out what they have on line or call to reserve books without spending time on site. Another idea is having friends who belong to book clubs pass their reads along. Holler if I can help out. Judy xoxoxo

  3. ok---so you put finances into this and now are denied---so where is that $$$ seems fraudulent to me---false advertising---stuff like this makes my blood boil---you should get ALL of your $$ back then. Unbelievable----also, my precious Dad passed away yesterday at Valerie Manor where my Mom lives---he was there for rehab and was only there 24 hours---he died going down the hall looking for my Mom and had a heart attack---talk about the Notebook!!! Fight for your $$$$ Hope you're strong and geared up for the next round---it will soon be a vision of the past!!!! Love, Bev and Blake