Amber Marchese, star of The Real Housewives of New Jersey , is blogging about her second battle with cancer for PEOPLE. After surviving breast cancer in 2009, she discovered a lump, which turned out to be cancerous, in her right breast in April. Marchese will share updates on her treatment and how she is coping with this second round of the deadly disease with prayer, a positive outlook and the help of her family.
I usually do not get into political rants. I just do my part as an American and vote. I consciously choose not to debate with others over differences in politic viewpoints. Frankly, I do not trust mostly what is presented to me, so most debates are fruitless. Plus, I like to wait until we see the result of new law. However, I feel the need to express my views as politicians made a decision to force a law which directly and negatively affects me, as well as, countless other Americans.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2009, we invested in two different types of insurance. We were a growing family and felt it was best for our family needs at that point. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was an emotional and financial devastation to the family. However, because we had two different insurance policies, the majority of the costs were covered and we had many options. We picked our oncologist, our breast surgeon as well as our plastic surgeon. Our physicians’ decided on a treatment plan and it was covered. It was still extremely costly and we took a huge financial hit, but at no time did the insurance company make my treatment decisions.
Now we here we are again – our worst nightmare. I have a relapse, a recurrence of breast cancer. But what’s difference now is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It is now in effect and our situation is very different. We were forced to go into a more affordable health insurance plan, switching from Horizon Blue Shield to Amerihealth. The old Horizon plan was a “Cadillac Plan” targeted by Obamacare for its outstanding coverage and flexibility. The Horizon plan was discontinued as Obamacare became law. It did not matter that my family paid for that Cadillac coverage for 15 years prior to my diagnosis or that we counted on that plan. With a swipe of a pen, the best coverage for cancer patients was replaced with Obamacare. This forced us into to pick between lousy coverage and worse coverage. Health insurance is great while you are healthy or until you get really sick. So with no good, options we picked AmeriHealth – an insurance born of Obamacare.
AmeriHealth had cost less per month but has gone up 20 percent in two years and now cost almost as much as our deceased Horizon Cadillac plan. It is way more upfront for every visit, and the out of pocket costs are in the tens of thousands. If the increased expense was the only issue, I would not have mentioned it other than how Obamacare hurts the seriously ill financially. But the story gets worse. My oncologist, Dr. Nissenblatt, has treated me for eight years, and in that eight years, my doctor has taken the time to get to know me and my family, to know my case, and has given me top-rated care. With my second diagnosis, given my history, Dr. Nissenblatt made a prescription for me to receive at least a year of a combination of Herceptin and Pejeta, as well as, Zometa to treat my breast cancer reoccurrence, as is consistent with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Guidelines (NCCN Guidelines). Unfortunately, the insurance company denied Zometa right out of the gate. However, I have been going religiously for my Herceptin/Perject infusions for six months, every three weeks. I have gone to every checkup, scan, and take my medications on time every day. However, right before I was to get my seventh dose of Herceptin/Perjeta, Dr. Nissenblatt’s office calls to inform me that my insurance company has made the decision that I am no longer in need of further treatment. Their group of oncology nurses reviewed my case and decided AmeriHealth was going to overrule my personal oncologist, disagree with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines and no longer cover my treatment! I could pay out of pocket for this lifesaving treatment; however, we are talking tens of thousands of dollars for just one treatment!
Because of this decision made by an insurance company, I was forced to cancel my treatment for the following day. Dr. Nissenblatt is now in the process of appealing their decision. In the meantime, I am without treatment. I am absolute appalled and disgusted that an insurance company that does not know me, nor my family can make a critical health decision and over rule my oncologist, who I know and trust. How dare this company get in these types of affairs? My husband works very hard, pays an exuberant amount of taxes to the government, pays an exuberant amount of money towards health insurance, and when I need to utilize my health insurance, I am denied. Yet, again, the government is sticking its nose into our personal affairs and taking away more of our freedoms. This time, by limiting my health care. Thanks Nancy Pelosi. Now we know what is in Obamacare and how it lowers health insurance premiums and how it helps insurance companies but also hurts women! Sad, as Pelosi is in Congress and excluded from Obamacare she will never face my situation.
[IMAGE “4” “” “std” ]The crazy part about this is the oncologist working for Amerihealth will not get on a single phone call with my personal oncologist! We are in process of fighting, so I will keep all of you informed, in the meantime, back to radiation.
RELATED VIDEO: Sandra Lee Opens Up About Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Prior to my first diagnosis, my breasts were a private part of me that only my husband was to see. They were very much a part of my feminine being. Then, they became a life source to my babies. Although difficult, breastfeeding was an amazingly emotional bonding time between mother and child. I breastfed both of my babies and I loved it. Then, the diagnosis happened. The next thing I knew, my breasts were poked, prodded, observed by doctors and nurses. My breasts were no longer a beautiful part of me, but instead a medical procedure. Radiation was no different. I am a strong girl and really the type of person that rolls with the punches, but sometimes, just sometimes, the sadness of the situation hits me.
There I am on, lying on a table about to get a mold. It is like a chair fitted to you so when I get my actual radiation, I lie very still and in the correct spot. The radiation treatment itself is barely noticeable. The worst part is I am topless and there are several doctors, nurses and technicians there to help with this process. I have to lie very still with my arms over my head, head turned to the side, topless. Although, everyone tries to make me feel comfortable, it is just so humiliating. I tried to hold the tears back, but I had several roll down my cheek during this process. It was hard to talk to answer any questions so I just tried to imagine running on a beach or splashing in a pool with my kids in the Bahamas. All I kept thinking was, “how did I get here?” “Why, just why?”
The “mold” that I am referring to is a customized immobilization de vise that “hold the body” in place because it is extremely important that I am set up in the exact same position each time I receive radiation. Each facility uses different devises, mine was like a garbage bag filled with chemicals. When I laid down, it molded around me to create a permanent position for me to be in each time I came. Then, four tattoos were put on me to help create an alignment. They are pinpoint, bluish/black tattoos. One on either side of my body and two going down the middle of my breastplate.
There are special wall-mounted lasers in the treatment room and in the simulation room that are used to position the patient. This is kind of like the levelers that are used in the contrition industry. By aligning marks on the patient’s body to these lasers, the therapist can adjust the position. There are also films that can be taken to verify the body’s position before a treatment. This is done for me once a week. It is essential the radiation encompasses the correct location and does not damage internal organs.
I was so afraid my first time getting radiation, although, I never let up to anyone that I felt that way. I just smiled and hoped onto the table. I was instructed to remain very still the entire time. I was permitted to breathe normally and scratch my nose if I had to, but that was about it. Of course, the minute they say that, I had itches all over. I just had to block them out. The technicians leave the room, but remain in contact with me over the loud speaker and multiple video cameras. They talk me through each time they put the radiation beam on. One, from my left side, with the beam angled down, one from the right side with the beam angled up, then the last one was a beam straight down onto my breast. I have to say, there was nothing scary about this entire procedure. If you have every gotten an x-ray, it was very much like this, except I am topless. Funny how radiation sounds so horrible, but in reality it was very benign.