Category Archives: Cancer

Goodbye Tomas

Today, or, rather, yesterday as I’m writing this at silly o’clock on a Monday morning, was a tough day. It was a tough day because I received a message that one of my students, Tomas, had died from cancer. At age 14 years his life ended. After 14 years his parents and sister went home to a home which probably felt more like just a house; a home which would never again hear Tomy’s dry sense of humor or see his shy smile; nor would they ever again experience the delight of living with this brave young man who, for several years, knew that he was almost certainly fighting a war against cancer, a war which, ultimately he expected to lose and, yet, he continued, so far as his treatments would allow, to fully enjoy the life of a teenager.

**********   If you are religious you should probably stop reading at this point.   **********


**********   Really, you should probably not have got to this warning if you are religious   **********

I imagine that you, like I, read Facebook; that you, like I, have “friends” on there who are God-fearing, upright citizens who post religious things. Last week someone posted something along the lines of, “Thank God for all the brightness in your life. Thank God for all the happy memories. Thank God for all the good things in your life”, and so on and so forth. My question is simple, if you thank God for all the good things in life, then who should you thank for taking away the life of a child? Not just Tomy’s life, but the lives of all the other children who died in the last 24 hours, who will die in the next 24 hours and so on until this world ceases to support life? If you really thank God for all the good things; if you really thank God for taking a personal interest in your well-being, then should you not also thank that same God for taking the lives of innocents like Tomy who actually was part of a religious family, should you not also thank that same God for all those who die from floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes and other “natural” disasters? Should you not also thank that same God if you are one of the homeless sleeping rough who lost their home and family when some corporate banker made a decision which wiped out a company employing that person? Should you not also thank that same God if you have been raped, abused or violated in any way? If this God takes such a personal interest in you why is that He failed to take a personal interest in all of those other people who have been badly effected by events in the last 24 hours and those who will be in the future? Did they do something wrong? Were they all people like me, people who thought there was no such being as a God who really takes any interest in what goes on in the universe let alone on this small and relatively insignificant world of ours. Were none of those people “good people”? Did none of those people believe in the same God that you do? It’s surely impossible to believe that everyone who has died prematurely or in pain or had their lives adversely affected is a “bad person” who is irreligious isn’t it?

On my way to fetch my car from the bottom of the street I composed a poem for Tomy, not a poem of bitterness, nor a poem of is there a God, but a poem of my pain and disappointment at not seeing Tomy go on to a full and mature life as, in my opinion, he fully deserved to do. I would love to publish that poem here, in my blog, but I can’t, at least not yet, as I am currently on a course which requires that I publish, in the course book, a piece of my own original work: my poem for Tomy will be that piece of work replacing the one on which I had previously worked. Maybe I will be able to publish it here later. I hope so.


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Us Health Care Costs

If you’ve read much of my blog you will know that I am from England where health care is free at the point of delivery, it is not free, people pay a tax so that when they really need health care they don’t have to decide whether or not to see a doctor and lose their house in fees or to accept that they will die earlier than they would if they could afford medical care. You will also know that when I got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma I was completely baffled by the US health insurance system with people talking about co-pays, deductibles, in-scheme and all sorts of other words and phrases I’d just never come across. Without my wife doing everything for me I couldn’t have navigated my way through the maze because, along the way I discovered that there were several billing mistakes which had to be rectified, and, wouldn’t you just know it, none of them were in our favor.

This week I got another shock from the industry known as U.S. medicine and health care. I saw my surgeon for a pre-op meeting so that he could ask how long I’d had my port in my body, prod it a couple of times, speak to the two trainee doctors who trailed around after him and then shake my hand. At the maximum he spent 8 minutes with me; his receptionist somewhat less and I’d already seen the guy who arranged the surgical appointment. I’d payed my co-pay when I was in his office and then, this week, I received an invoice for $485.00, the remainder of his fee after deduction of my $50.00 co-pay. The letter did threaten that “If this matter is not resolved in a timely manner, serious collection activity may be initiated:. Naturally I spoke to my insurance company but I ended up passing the phone to my wife as I couldn’t make head nor tale of what the insurance company wanted to know let alone what it had done simply because none of the figures they were giving matched with the ones I knew of. It turned out that the reason none of the figures matched was because the deal between my insurance company and my surgeon means that instead of receiving $485.00 from me he actually received just $90.00 from my insurer, that’s right, a reduction of $395.00!!! I find that amazing. Either he’s now working for next to nothing or his office has bloated the fee to a standard which is acceptable here in the U.S. To some extent it doesn’t affect me as I have insurance, but, if I didn’t have that insurance, I’d now owe nearly $500.00 when the physician group would have settled for less than $100.00. It seems reasonably obvious that one of the two main groups which don’t have medical insurance are the poor and unemployed and yet it would seem that they are likely to get hit with a bill almost 500% larger than the bill paid by an insurer. Yes, the U.S. clearly wants to take care of the poor and impoverished who have turned up on its shores.

I read and hear a lot about Obama care, and while I think it is better than nothing, it doesn’t go far enough. The U.S. needs to stop worrying about socialism in medicine, about government interference in making people take out medical insurance, it should, in my opinion, and I realize that I am only a guest here, move towards a system such as that in the UK, where people are taxed to pay for health care, surely the government can’t object to taxing its citizens can it?

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Play to Cure – Cancer Research UK

I came across something on the BBC website recently which made me want to check out a game app from Cancer Research UK designed to help crack the cancer DNA code. Here’s the link


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Filed under Cancer, cancer research, Cancer Research UK, Play to Cure

The US Health Insurance Arrangements Suck

Those of you who read my previous blog will know that by now I should have had my chemotherapy port removed. Those of you who are astute readers may now be inferring that I still have it firmly in place and that this is so because of health insurance. My astute readers, you are correct.

From coming to the US the entire health insurance set up has been as clear to me as London smog. Co-pays, deductibles and so on were notions which were so alien to me coming from England with the NHS to which we all contribute and which is free at point of service. I always thought that to be a great scheme and think it an even better one now that I have experienced the US system. Since arriving in the US I have been on my wife’s health insurance, for which she pays a small fortune because, obviously, if I claim under it she is still working so the health policy won’t lapse, whereas if she claims under it for anything serious there is every chance that she might not be able to continue working and the policy would lapse thereby meaning that the insurance company’s responsibilities would be terminated and liability limited. In September I completed application forms for insurance through my employer and subsequently discovered that my insurance had been backdated which meant that we were not able to cancel the insurance I had under my wife’s policy as they require 3 months notice to cancel or some such. This has meant that I have had double insurance.

When I went to the outpatient center for my port removing this became a problem as the Center told us that they couldn’t accept the insurance under my wife because that wasn’t my primary insurance and we couldn’t use my own insurance because the doctor wasn’t on my insurance. The consequence is that the surgery was cancelled, I still have my port and now we are concerned in case this revelation means that the insurance we had used will now be cancelled retrospectively and we will be billed for the cost of things such as my CT scan.

American health care is good, the NHS is good, the difference is that people in the UK don’t have to sorry about how they will pay for health care when they are ill, neither do they have to spend hours worrying about which policy to select by trying to predict a year in advance just what health care they might need in order to find a policy which will cover them if that happens without having to pay out a large proportion of their income to cover events which they consider to be unlikely.

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Almost two years ago…

I have a strange feeling tonight as it is almost exactly two years ago since I was waiting to go for a biopsy to confirm that I had cancer, and tonight I’m waiting to go for surgery tomorrow to have my port taken out. It’s a strange feeling because in those two years so much of my life has changed. Two years ago I was newly arrived in the U.S. and awaiting confirmation that I could become a resident – there’s a certain synchronicity here as I’m now awaiting confirmation that I may become a permanent resident, without a job whereas now I have been working since August, and a U.S. medical system virgin whereas now I have had a lot of experience of said medical system, in so many ways I am now a very different person to the one I was two years ago. It’s also strange because I have been waiting to update this blog for quite a few weeks, since I got the all clear on my last CT scan and knew the port would be coming out, the delay was caused because at the time I got the all clear I discovered that one of my blogging friends had died and, although I’d never met Jen in real life, I had derived a huge amount of support from her intelligent and insightful blogs: I found it difficult handling my own and my family’s feelings of joy at my news with my own sadness and the heartbreak which Jen’s family must have been feeling. That’s a conflict I haven’t yet truly come to terms with in my own mind, other than to accept that life goes on, but tomorrow, as I make my way into surgery, I will be thinking not only of Jen but of all the others, who unlike me, didn’t successfully make it to the far side of this disease. I’ll also be thinking of all those who supported me, not only my wife and family, but also the blogging community, friends, and, now, colleagues as well.

My wish for the New Year is that 2014 is the year in which those dedicated to destroying cancers will be successful on an unprecedented scale.

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New research shows ‘DNA tags’ could guide treatment for advanced ovarian cancer

I hope this article is helpful to those who are searching for a successful treatment for ovarian cancer.

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Filed under Cancer, cancer research, Cancer Research UK, Ovarian Cancer

Another step

It is now almost one whole year since I ceased being dosed with the life-preserving poison known as chemotherapy. It’s now about six months since I started feeling mentally and physically capable of concentrating for periods longer than a few seconds, and of remembering things from day-to-day rather than losing the thought within minutes, and, so, I started the search for work. It felt like a giant step at the time especially as, just before Christmas, I was told that I was being put forward for a job with a recommendation from HR that I was the best person for it. In the event the job went to an internal promotion and I never got as far as an interview with the decision-maker despite having spent hours getting my MS Office skills back to where they had been a year before. Then came the lean months, the months of staring into my laptop’s screen and wading through all the jobs that are available out there. To see so many jobs is really great. To be able to apply for such a small percentage of them is not great. To spend a couple of hours or more preparing a CV/resume tailored to each position and yet to hear nothing is very definitely not a rewarding process. To receive an email saying, “you’re through to a telephone interview”, is, initially a fantastic feeling, but, after a few of those, when in my own unbiased opinion, they have gone well, and yet not hear any further from the employer really is a blow to one’s morale. To apply for a job at Home Depot as a collector of carts in the parking lot (see how American my language is becoming, I really, really, wanted to write, “a collector of trolleys in the car park”) and not get past the first interview was a real blow, especially as I’d chosen not to point out to them that placing a column of seats in the corridor to the fire escape had to be a breach of Health and Safety legislation even here in Florida. Everyone tells you, you have to turn up in person and then when they see you and “hear your cute British accent”, (their words not mine – honestly!) they’ll offer you a job, but these days you turn up and they say, “apply online”. I’ve even been to jobs fairs where there are recruiters there whose sole role was to give out fliers showing how to apply online – thanks Target, T-Mobile and others, it was almost a pleasure getting out of bed and travelling to meet your recruitment staff to discuss the jobs you have. Why do they bother turning up at all? I don’t know what kind of effect that has on other job seekers but it definitely left me not only pissed off and unimpressed with them as an employer but also it creates a negative impression which very definitely impacts on my spending plans. Maybe the spending power of those desperate enough to be applying through jobs fairs isn’t sufficient to be of interest to those companies.

I set myself a target of applying for at least three jobs a day. Most days I applied for four or five, sometimes five or six. On one day I got in an amazing 25 job applications courtesy of chain websites which allowed me multiple selections of stores at which I was willing to be considered for employment, but I got no response from any of them. I was finding it more and more difficult to motivate myself to approach my unpaid work of finding paid work with any degree of enthusiasm, and then, a neighbour phoned a friend of his who works for Workforce1 and we arranged to meet a couple of days later. It was a very simple action by my neighbor but it meant a lot to me, here was someone who believed in me and was willing to put themselves out for me. That meeting went well and I went for an interview which also went well, but I had morale qualms about what I would need to do as, effectively I would be on an IT helpline resolving customers’ problems but with a view to upselling the employers kit to replace what the customer had. Now I’ve spent a few years working in IT and helping friends and, in my experience, the problem has rarely been the kit. Some friends had a friend who was undertaking training there and who was, at that point, reported to be enjoying working there: his opinion changed when he was working directly with customers and he soon quit. I felt vindicated when I heard this, I’d possibly made the correct decision and still retained some dignity despite having to continue to depend totally upon my wife. Anyway, from this initial meeting with Martin at WF1 I was able to sign up for their program called Professional Placement Network (PPN) which is kick-started by a one week course in how to find work. They had expectations of us, for instance, we had to dress as though we were going to work, a small thing but it did make a difference, they treated us as real people with goals and we felt important. That week with Thomas Doughety revitalized me, as it did others, and I adopted many of the strategies they suggested, however the pattern continued to be the same. Then through PPN I got involved in helping at a jobs fair where I met Shannon, and suddenly it did seem as though, when someone met me, they would think my accent was cute, and they might offer me a job, but first I had to go through a telephone interview with Shannon’s assistant, and then another telephone interview with Shannon and of course these things take time don’t they as they work to the employer’s timescales and not those of the unemployed and, in the interim, my wife and I had met with some friends, one of whom is a teacher in a private school about 18 miles away, and she suggested I contact the school with a view to acting as a substitute teacher. I explained that I didn’t have teaching qualifications in Florida and was having problems convincing the school district of my qualifications, as in England, universities don’t )or at least they didn’t when I was a student) regularly provide transcripts which seem to be de rigeur here in the US. Lisa responded that as a private school such things might not be necessary, so I wrote to the school with yet another carefully crafted resume and after a few days the school got in touch and said they would like me to teach a lesson being observed by around four staff. Now, I’ve taught lessons as a student with class teachers, headteachers, and even HMI watching me. As a qualified teacher I’ve gone through HMI and OFSTED inspections as well as annual appraisal by my managers, but I was more nervous of teaching this lesson than for any of those. I mean I had no idea about what the pupils knew, so I didn’t really know where to start let alone where I was going to finish, but, in the event, it went well as did the interview afterwards, and we left it that the school was interested in me and would get in touch when they knew what they had to offer me. That sounded very similar to one interview I had for a job selling cars where my interviewer and I both agreed at the end of the interview that we were both interested in taking things forward and then I got told they weren’t. Anyway, you know the old saying, “It never rains but it pours”, well, my heavens opened. I got a call from a company I had applied to four months earlier saying they would like to speak to me. Great, except it went to voice mail and so we played telephone tag for a couple of weeks, or, more accurately, I was trying to play telephone tag but Sylvan never called back. It was at this point that I had the second telephone interview with Shannon, and then a friend suggested applying to another company for casual work selling vacations and they wanted to interview me as well, so, suddenly, from having nothing going for me, I was waiting for Sylvan to get back to me (they never did), for Shannon to take things to the next interview with a local manager, for the travel company to move on from the three hours of interview process and for the school to get back to me. Of them all I preferred the school option as Sylvan would probably be only part-time, Shannon’s job was commission only selling financial plans and I don’t want to turn into the kind of guy who annoys everyone he meets by trying to sell them some kind of a scheme, the travel job was minimum pay with success basically depending upon the hours put in and it was pretty clear that meant 9+ hours per day on the phone and that would be 7 days a week in order to make a decent income. Against this, I know I am a good teacher and that I can succeed at the school, but, despite telling them that I was awaiting confirmation from these other companies that they wanted me, the school still hadn’t been able to sort out its staffing needs until last week when they phoned and told me they could offer me a job! That was a great day. Sadly I couldn’t fully share my joy with anyone as my wife is abroad with her son while I had chosen to stay home and chase work. Telling family by text just isn’t the same as seeing them face-to-face and sharing the physical excitement and relief. I felt slightly bad about telling Shannon that I had accepted another job as she’d phoned and left a voice mail to say we could now go forward with a local manager and wanting to arrange a suitable time, plus I felt that we had begun to establish a positive relationship, but, a bird in the bush and all that.

I really do view getting a job as part of the return to a normal life after the chemo, and it really does feel like a giant step forward to me, and yet, I continue to read the blogs of those who were diagnosed with cancer at about the same time as me, and I read how they are now on new medications which are finally showing some signs of beating back their cancers, and I realise that, in terms of where I have been these past 18 months and where my blogger friends are in their own journeys, it is significant but less important than being healthy.

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Filed under Cancer, Hodgkins Lymphoma, Job Search, Unemployment