Monthly Archives: February 2014

Repossessed

3 weeks later ….. and I have changed my mind!!

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 Friday, February 7, 2014Same Year …. New Model

I can’t quite believe it! It has only been three and a half weeks since Mike’s diagnosis of colon cancer; exactly three weeks today since his surgery and now, today, we have just returned from the first day of our running program! Here is my ‘Ode’ to the marvels of modern medicine, the mystery of the human body and the resilience of the human spirit. We are full of gratitude for how it has all turned out.

Mike stayed home from school for only a week and a day. By then, it was all systems go – from that day on, we started walking from 3 to 6 km. in Arad, every day after school. As we all know, walking promotes, among other things, talking….and so, we got to talking every

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day, about how much better Mike was feeling. Every day for him, has brought about small shifts in returning to normal …. food tasting better…..addiction to gum and salt crystal snacking lessening….energy increasing…..but BEST OF ALL….. a return to our previous zest for life…..feeling young again! From there, our talk turned to running and how it just might once again be possible, for both of us. Because, I too, became older and accepted my decrease of energy, putting it down to age……at the young age of 61!! How can that happen you ask? It happens so gradually that you don’t notice it and it affects every aspect of your life, from your relationship with each other and with friends, to the daily routines of life. Life becomes just a bit boring but, because it’s so gradual, you don’t notice. So now, today, I feel like it is the first day of the rest of our lives!!

For the first time, in a long time, I woke up this morning feeling positive and happy! It was 630 am, the sun was shining and the sky was brilliantly clear. It’s been cold and cloudy – unusual for Bahrain. I seem to have unconsciously…. mentally, brushed aside all the exasperations and frustrations of our retirement effort, the shock of Mike’s diagnosis, the added shock of his son Chris’s diagnosis of bone cancer and now it feels like a new beginning. And what is going through my mind is what my father tried to teach me but what I first really learned from Todd, the most outstanding model of this….that life is what you make it…..a lesson I keep learning over and over again!

So …. we headed out the door at around 730 am, new running shoes sparkling, sunglasses and baseball caps in place. We’d been planning all week long, on our daily walks, discussing our training focus, ‘slow and steady’. We decided to do 5 minute intervals; 1 minute of running followed by 4 minutes of fast walking and to do this for the next 2 weeks before increasing it to 2 minutes of running and 3 minutes of walking. Today we did the first 6 intervals – 6 minutes of total running, 24 minutes of total walking plus a good long warmup and cool down, beginning and end. Rewarded ourselves with breakfast at our favorite restaurant, Le Bateau.

Anyways, that’s my update. We continue to live each day as it comes and try to make decisions only when we have to, trying not to think too far into the future.

Tilster

Husband for SALE… My Perspective

My newsletter to friends and family… From My point of view – Tilster

For Sale: One Husband

Recently reconditioned but with a few parts missing, fully functioning with some tender care & maintenance!

January 22, 2014   Just look at those legs!!

PRICELESS!!!

Before I begin our saga, know that we are well. I had to think long and hard, procrastinating about how and when to share with you our latest adventure and how it has played itself out.

In the Beginning

How could you know that a simple blood test and a trip to Starbucks right after, would be the entrance into a dark tunnel filled with fear, doubt, anger, hope and recovery? Now, ten days after entering that black tunnel, we are re-emerging into the light.

As many of you are aware, Mike hasn’t been feeling his normal self lately. We put this down to the turbulence of retirement, allergies, changes of climate and country ….. never thinking it might be anything serious. At the end of September, we returned to Bahrain in response to an urgent plea from our former school; they were seriously short of teachers. Retirement not being quite what we thought it would be, it didn’t take us long to consider the offer and to accept. Within weeks, we were in Bahrain, happy to be back. Mike kept complaining about cold/flu – like symptoms and a burning in his chest so in November, we went to the ENT (ear/nose/throat) who did indeed find severe allergies and treated Mike for them. We decided to holiday in California for the winter break during the last two weeks of December, returning to Bahrain January 1st. While in California, we went on a hike with our good friends Shelley and Bernard but after the first 15 minutes, we had to turn back as Mike couldn’t make it.

We have a favorite place we like to go walking here, called Arad. It is a 3km walkway around a man made bay where the sea water fills the bay during high tide and leaves a mud flat during low. It is a beautiful place to walk, populated with flamingoes in ever-growing numbers, newly sprouting mangrove trees and all kinds of herons attracted by the multitude of fish. Usually, I have to stretch my legs to keep up with Mike but in the first week  back, it was Mike who couldn’t keep up with me, having to stop often to allow him to catch his breath and to allow the burning in his chest to subside. After that walk, we stopped by the hospital to make a follow up appointment with the same ENT. He checked Mike, said all was fine and escorted us up to the cardiologist. Immediately, the cardiologist took an ECG, sent Mike off for a chest X-ray and ordered blood tests, a stress test and a heart ultrasound. However, we had to wait a day for the last three tests as insurance had to okay it first. A few days later we had the okay from insurance to go ahead. Between fasting and working Mike eventually went in early on Jan. 13th which happened to be a holiday for us. You know what it’s like when you have to fast for a blood test …. you want a coffee and some food right after so off we went to Starbucks. We were just ordering our coffee when we received an emergency call from the technician at the lab, pleading/insisting that we come back for a re-test of Mike’s hemoglobin. We asked if we could finish our coffees – she said yes but to come as soon as possible. Still, we weren’t all that worried….what were we thinking??

Mike’s hemoglobin level turned out to be at “a panic level” of 4.9 (normal for males is 13 – 17). We found out later from doctors that anyone having this level is usually unconscious but because Mike’s body had adapted to this, he was still able to function. (Mike says it’s because he never uses his brain LOL!!)  We were next escorted to the ER. They wouldn’t let him leave. The task? To find out why his hemoglobin was so low.

Days of Discovery and Doubt

So …. an internist was called in who explained that given Mike’s age and symptoms, the most likely cause was internal bleeding in the gastric department. He was scheduled for an emergency endoscopy and colonoscopy. You all know about the preparation for that!! In addition he was given three units of packed red blood cells within the first night and day of being admitted. After that, he was feeling pretty good, other than the fact he couldn’t eat anything. The procedures showed a bleeding lesion and a tumor in an area of the colon called the ‘hepatic flex’ the bend of colon that passes in front of the liver on it’s way to join the small intestine. That’s important because of it’s proximity to the liver. Mike was still recovering from the sedative when the Doctor called me in to talk to her. She showed the pictures, explained that what I was seeing was a tumor …. and there my mind stopped working on anything other than the “C” word. “Yes” she said in response to my query, “99.9% sure! It is cancer!” She went on to explain and tell me what the next steps would be … a CT scan to see how much of the area was affected (we learned later that if the CT scan had shown any involvement of the liver or other surrounding tissues, they would not have done surgery right away. It was a good sign, not that we knew it at the time). The CT scan came back clear which meant that the liver appeared not to be involved. The procedures and the results of the procedures and CT scan were on Wednesday, Jan.15; surgery was scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 18. That whole time, Mike felt great (thanks to more RBCs) even though his favorite pastime (eating) was limited to clear liquids. On Saturday, the day of his surgery, we found out that our doctor here had arranged for a laparoscopic specialist to be flown in from Muscat, Dr. Lada. He was delightful….born and educated in Belgium….came to see us beforehand, drew us pictures and told us that he came just for us….that he wasn’t going to be in a hurry….so he inspired confidence. The surgery took three and a half hours ….doctors were pleased with how it went. They took out half the colon and a bit of the small intestine for re-attachment purposes as well as all of the associated lymph glands. Needless to say, for the first 24 hours Mike was in excruciating pain. Since then, we have come to learn more about what happened and what the tumor is. But first, let me delve into the anger part of our adventure.

Days of Anger

I slept on the couch in Mike’s room that first night. (I have spent most of every day in the hospital with Mike.) Willing as I was to do that the next night as well, Mike insisted I sleep at home in my own bed. His insistence, in addition to the associated aches and pains of sleeping on the couch, convinced me, so off I went – home. I was exhausted so by 830 pm I was in my PJs, ready for bed when Mike called, in an overpowering fit of rage. He had been in a deep sleep, full of pain meds and every and anything else they could pump him full of. The hospital admissions called him on the phone, out of this deep sleep, to tell him that insurance wouldn’t cover his hospital stay and that he had to pay 7500 BD or $20,000 USD!!! At 830 at night, the day after surgery!! Everything had been pre-approved! On came my clothes, up went my heart rate, into high alert, adrenalin on!!!! Raced over to the hospital to find Mike, so angry that pain was sidelined, stomping around the room hanging on to his drain (abdominal drain to collect blood and fluids from the surgery site), trying to call, threatening the nurses he would check out of the hospital, blood pressure up “higher than a cat’s back” and everyone around him scurrying around, trying to calm him down. Into that mess, I stepped. Tried more or less successfully to calm Mike down, put him into a wheel chair and wheeled him down to admissions (the phone in our room wouldn’t work) to call the insurance office in Dubai….. of course, there couldn’t be a solution….but they could at least have waited until morning for this bombshell. Put him back into bed and stayed until midnight. Then I went home to a more or less sleepless night. Next day, we went into action, making calls, writing letters, threatening the school, talking to the hospital admissions, doctors rallying fully behind us, and meanwhile having everyone reassure us that all would be well etc etc.  The insurance company did what all insurance companies do….they find any reason possible not to pay. Here were theirs:

Cancer is chronic – they don’t cover it.

It’s a pre-existing condition – they don’t cover pre-existing conditions.

We came back to Bahrain, late in the school year, just so Mike could get treatment!!

Our responses?? Thanks to the encouragement of our dear friend Carol, Mike went to my doctor in Kamloops while we were taking care of Peaceful Cove Resort and had a blood test. Thanks again to Carol’s coaching, Mike had it done at Life Labs and so was able to access the results online here and thus be able to prove that 10 months prior, his hemoglobin was normal as were the markers for cancer. That took care of number 1 and number 2. As far as coming back – Nargis, our HR person at the school,  took care of that by telling them she is the one who asked us to come back and teach. Mike wrote a scathingly brilliant letter to the insurance company, outlining our point of view, a copy of the blood tests with the added threat that should it be necessary, a court of law would most likely see it our way. Then, it became a waiting game. We didn’t have long to wait….yesterday, Jan. 22, we were informed by the insurance company themselves, via     e mail, that they would cover us 100%!

Days of Recovery and Hope

Now, it is today, Thursday, January 23rd. Mike is still in hospital, continuing his recovery. Today, we learned from the oncologist that the preliminary pathology indicates that he will NOT need chemo or radiation treatment. He has what is called an adenocarcinoma….slow growing….they think they have gotten it all. The lymph nodes have been pronounced clear as have the surrounding organs, and the tumor did not penetrate the outer wall of the colon. It has been there for a while so we consider ourselves lucky. In fact, we are filled with gratitude for the way everything has turned out. It could have been so much worse…! Apparently, if it had been known Mike had such a tumor, he would not have been permitted to fly because of the high risk of it bursting in midair. It is anticipated that Mike will be allowed to go home in a few more days.

Days of Learning

God, the Universe, the Fates, Karma, Entities or Deities of choice……keep trying to teach us the lesson of living in the moment. And so….in contradiction of the lesson we have just learned…..we are busy trying to plan how and when we want to return to Canada LOL! The real lesson is to take every day as it is offered and to cherish every moment you have with your loved ones. This latest episode of life has clearly shown us that there are no guarantees…Mike says, the Germans have a saying…..”Der mensch denkt, Gott lenkt.” Roughly translated it means “Man pleads, God leads!” When will we ever learn to let God lead?

PS: Bidding starts at all the money in the world……not enough!!!

Love & hugs

Tilly & Mike

Healthy as a Horse… “Dear God…”

5  February 2014

Only 3 weeks ago my tumor was discovered and my journey as a colon cancer patient began.

Today I am as though I had never been ill. I still have a bandage covering the still slightly tender incisions required for surgery.  But, other than that I feel so much better… it is at times difficult for me to remember that I was sick, much less that I was life-threatening sick.

As I reflect on the last three weeks, I am filled with an intense gratitude … for the doctors… for the nurses… for the staff of the hospital…. for the “universe”.

I laugh to myself as I think of an atheist’s prayer … “Dear God, I don’t really believe in you BUT thanks anyway.”

My cancer was a Stage II Grade 2 Adenocarcinoma… technical jargon a T3 N0 M0 …. All that stuff means is that it was a slow growing cancer that had not spread beyond the colon… had no lymph nodes involved and no spread to other parts of the body … IN SHORT … the surgery appears to have successfully removed all of the tumor. There are no HIGH RISK factors for recurrence. But that does not mean I can relax … still have tests every 3 months and a yearly colonoscopy… small price to pay to prevent another emergency surgery.

So, what am I? A cancer survivor? Cured? A statistic? Or am I just one very lucky victim who escaped the onslaught of a monstrous giant seeking to devour all who come within its shadow?

No I am just a guy in whose body some cells had their software go haywire and grow crazily. Luckily it was discovered in time and the mal-programmed cells were removed before they could spread their bad programming  elsewhere.

Til and I are now walking between 3 & 6km every day. We shopped for running shoes. I now hope to do some long distance running again. My first goal… 10k…. then maybe a half-marathon. Never thought I would run ANY distance again.

So I am on the mend… PHYSICALLY

Flashback to 28 January…

I just finished a call with Chris ( my son)… my world has been rocked with a 9.5 emotional earthquake. Chris has been fighting an infection in his jaw…. now after a biopsy the preliminary diagnosis is CANCER. The doctors are planning a second biopsy to confirm the result but his primary doctor is not holding out much hope. How I pray it will turn out negative.

“Dear God… I know what I said about believing in in you BUT can you do a repeat for Chris? Thanks in advance.” and I try to chuckle again…

how do I deal with this? It was easy when I was sick… but this is my son! My eyes keep watering up… i really feel… NO it is too early …have to wait for the 2nd biopsy results… there is always a chance… i am almost afraid to say “a mistake” because I might jinx it.  And my mind fills with images and memories… Chris at 3 wearing his bear claw slippers kicking a football around the living room… his best imitation of Rich Karlis… Bronco barefoot kicker (Chris heard BEARfoot) I smile and then the eyes water again…

Flash forward to yesterday… 4 February

This may be the worst day of my life so far… Chris called early. the 2nd biopsy confirms… Cancer. Surgical removal of part of his jaw will be required. Then, reconstruction of his jaw with bone taken from his leg bone(s)… then chemo and radiation therapy.

I am in a state of shock, astonished, gob-smacked, stunned, … my first thought turn skyward… “WHY?… WHY Chris? …. “ I want to rage, rail and scream…

Then the eyes water up again… I see the little boy running ….with his football, not a care… tossing a baseball to me and catching the return throw… I want to grab him up & run like hell to safety. ONLY the little boy is a grown man now AND  there is nothing I can do… I can’t even take on his burden and pain as every parent wishes they could for their suffering children.

My God, how the emotions flow… alternating between profound sadness and rage… I want to cry one minute and scream the next…

Two things occur to me simultaneously… One: none of my emotional drama has any effect on Chris or his condition… Two: this emotional drama is not conducive to my own health and well being … SO NOW that I am back to NORMAL (as normal as I can be),  it is time to focus all my thought and concern on Chris. And keep sending my positive vibes to him.

“Dear God …

Healthy as Horse… Sick as Dog …. Cancer – The Hospital and Insurance Company – Battle Royale

20 January 2014

After spending a pretty rough first day after surgery, I sent Tilly home for a good night;’s sleep. She earned it with her marvelous care the night before. I would tough this night out by myself. I was tired and decided to sleep … just drifting off and the my mobile rings… 20:45.

It was the hospital admissions office… I can barely understand the representative… something about the insurance not covering the bills and  I need to make arrangement to pay nearly  7,000 BHD ($20,000 US). My blood pressure hits the ceiling! Why the hell is HE calling me – the patient, less than 36 hours out of major surgery – at 8:45 PM at night? Couldn’t the call have waited until morning? “Hospital Policy”, he says.

The nurses go into overdrive trying to calm me down… I call Tilly to come and get me… Meanwhile I am hooked up to IV drips… painkillers, saline and nutrients and antibiotics….plus an abdominal drain… I am so angry it never occurs to me that I am not going anywhere.

Tilly arrives and we scrounge a wheel chair… and down to the Admissions Office we go. It is the only place I can call the Insurance Company from… the cell coverage in my room is awful and the phone is for local calls only.

IF I am angry at Ahmed (the Admissions agent) for calling so late… I am FURIOUS when the insurance company rep tells me that my condition is classified as a PEC (Pre Existing Condition) … when I ask how it could be pre-existing since I have never had anemia before…  the agent tells me “cancer is a chronic condition”. I have never had cancer before either.

The problem is there is NO diagnosis of cancer… I was admitted for severe anemia (life-threatening) and internal bleeding was found to be the cause… the surgery was medically an emergency … requiring immediate action. Until all the lab work is done “CANCER” remains only a preliminary diagnosis. Nevertheless the insurance rep remains unmoved.

I have never been a fan of insurance companies but this just solidifies my feelings. The first thing an insurance company does is to try to figure out a way NOT to pay. So, they reach into their bag of dirty little tricks and tell the ensured that they are not covered  because…_______ and hope the insured will just accept that and walk away as one of our colleges did when she was denied coverage (by the same company)for breast cancer three years previous.

I am determined to fight the bastards tooth and nail … ONLY – it is 11:30pm, Tilly has to work in the morning, I am still less than 48 hours out of surgery and this sure as hell this is not helping me to recover… Tilly goes home and I go back to my room… sleepless night for the two of us.

The next morning, during the surgeon’s morning rounds I mention the situation to my doctors… they are incensed. The hospital Admissions Director makes a trip up to my room apologizing for the late night call(s) and shortly becomes a very valuable ally in my struggle with the insurance company… providing insight and advice about this particular company….(i.e.- they deny every claim out of hand).

My employer had already sends a couple of emails, seeking clarification but nothing had  changed. Later in the day I remember a blood test I had done in March 2012… 10 months prior in Canada. I accessed a copy online and it showed completely normal Hemoglobin levels AND NORMAL TUMOR MARKERS! I emailed a copy to the Insurance company whose home office is in Los Angeles. I ask them HOW my situation could be pre-existing or chronic given the March 2012 blood test. I then await a response.

During the afternoon the HR person from my school visits and shares the emails she has sent. In one of the responses from  the Insurance company the representative stated that indeed I had been covered from my previous tenure at the school (2010 to 2012) but,  that I had not been covered from September of 2012  until I returned in Oct of 2013…. further stating  “We have no account as to why Mr. [MIKAL] left and returned, and why he returned late.”

The implications were/are very clear…. the decision as to what was covered by the insurance was made NOT by medical fact BUT on conjecture … i.e.- the assumption that I had been seriously ill with cancer and ONLY returned to the school for medical coverage.  I BLEW another gasket… firing off an email to the insurance rep I detailed the facts:

” FIRST – IT IS ABSOLUTELY NONE OF YOUR OR YOUR COMPANIES’ BUSINESS WHY I LEFT OR RETURNED LATE. However to answer your question… My wife and I decided to try to retire in 2012 AND ONLY returned because [Our school’s HR REP] asked us to return because she was seriously short of teachers.

Second – Your statement also holds the implication that I returned to Bahrain and [the school] to get medical treatment. I am a Permanent Canadian Resident… who is COVERED 100% under the Canadian Medical Services Plan of my Province! WHY would I travel ½ way around the world for treatment when it was available to me immediately? Further, WHY would I delay treatment until January 2014 when I was in North America in the entire previous YEAR & again in December 2013 visiting in California and could have gone to Canada then?

Your implications are simply insulting and your question immoral. Any decision should be based on the medical facts. I think enough information has been presented by myself AND my doctors AND my hospital that ANY REASONABLE person would conclude my condition was NOT pre-existing.

So in short, I am on the verge of contacting my attorney, to explore any and all legal remedies to this situation. NO DOUBT I will find a very hungry attorney who will lick his chops at the slam dunk case I would present to him.”

It only took until 8 AM the next morning; I (and all parties involved – the Hospital, my school’s HR rep. and my doctors) received an email from the insurance stating that  upon reviewing the “NEW” evidence the hospital bills and related charges would be paid in FULL.

I & Tilly  had worked for 2 days and 2 sleepless nights, researching and writing emails while trying to recover from major surgery. We have yet to receive an apology. By the way – If I had gone to the Dr while we were visiting in California over Christmas … the bills would have probably topped over $250K… the insurance company got off easy.

No one … absolutely no one should ever have to deal with a situation like this. I think I would rather have the doctors making my medical care decisions and NOT some profit motivated corporate entity.

Clearly this insurance company has made a habit of putting profits before it’s clients. Do all insurance companies?