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Monetizing Cancer is Apparently a Thing

Photograph by Getty Images

Mom to two little ones and mom.me contributor, Meredith C. Carroll will be sharing her experiences of her recent breast cancer diagnosis, imminent treatments and day-to-day living with the big "c" here on Mom's the Word. Please join us in supporting Meredith and wishing for the easiest path through this challenging journey she and her family are facing.

Most people will probably agree that the sound of your health insurance case manager’s laughter is neither here nor there. However, when she’s laughing at the notion that the insurance company will actually pay to remove both of your breasts, it’s probably not as amusing to you as it is to her.

RELATED: New Year, New Breast Cancer Diagnosis

If there were two things that I was sure of when I was told I had breast cancer on January 6, the first was that I have good insurance coverage. The second is that both breasts would come off. It turns out I was wrong about the former, although mostly because the insurance company sent us the wrong cards at the beginning of the year. Once that was straightened out, though, I felt confident that I was fully informed how much a year of a bilateral mastectomy, implant surgery and nipple reconstruction would cost me and that the bottom line number wasn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of things.

Then it turns out, the bilateral mastectomy wasn’t a home run, either. And by that, I mean the insurance company had to think about whether they would pay to remove my left breast at all. They had to rrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeaaaaallllllllyyyyyyyy think about it. For what felt like a painfully long time.

“Why would you want both breasts off if the cancer is only in one breast?” the case manager asked me in a tone I’m accustomed to only as it relates to asking a friend with 100 percent seriousness how it feels to be carted off in a spaceship by aliens. Which to say: It’s not a tone I’m familiar with at all.

I was too scared to respond—the word “preventive” seems like a booby trap that’s code for “elective” when you’re talking insurance coverage, which likely results in “denied.” I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. So instead, I hung up the phone and wept.

I never thought I’d be at a place in my life where getting approval to have body parts surgically removed would be a good thing.

I wept at the idea that I might have to spend each and every single future moment worrying about a recurrence of the cancer in the other breast. I wept at the idea that I would look like a science experiment with one fake boob and one real one. I wept because it seemed like good news was something I once knew something about, but not in a painfully long time. But mostly I wept because even though no one has come at me with a scalpel just yet, if they were only focusing on one side, I already felt lopsided, uneven and hopelessly unsexy.

Then something actually went my way.

“I’m covered! They’re doing it! They’re going to lop off both of my boobs!” I told a friend excitedly.

Then I stopped for a moment to consider what an odd thing that is to be grateful for. I’m happy to be losing both of my breasts? Well, no. I’m not happy that any of this is happening. But I’m fortunate that medicine and science have advanced from even a few years ago so that the reconstruction process will render me perhaps a bit better and more natural than had this happened any time previously. And, OK, yes, I’m happy that if one is going, the other will be holding its hand high in the air and driving over the cliff together in a fabulous ’66 blue Thunderbird convertible. It just felt weird to be thankful for something I thought was already happening—that surgeons and oncologists told me should happen.

What I’m finding myself most appreciative of, though, is that my diagnosis isn’t any worse than it is. Since the cancer in my right breast appears to be contained in the ducts, it is considered Stage 0. However, should they find during the surgery and the subsequent pathology that it has traveled outside of the ducts into the lymph nodes, breast tissue or even the supposedly unaffected breast, I will catapult to Stage 2.

Even so, my understanding is that won’t be the end of the world. Or, more importantly (to me, anyway) my life. So far I feel like I’ve been dealing with the diagnosis pretty well. Had I been told my cancer was more aggressive or advanced? I shudder at the idea. I don’t admire anyone with cancer simply because they have cancer, but people living with cancer more advanced than mine and still get out of bed, work, function like civilized folks? Wow. Just, wow.

RELATED: The Grand Possibilities of My Mastectomy

I never thought I’d be at a place in my life where getting approval to have body parts surgically removed would be a good thing, but the alternative is so clearly inferior. And the fact that I’m doing it under relatively positive circumstances has given me the opportunity to see more half-full glasses nearly everywhere I look.

Finding a little light in the dark appears to be my new normal, which might just be one of the best side effects of having cancer that I never realized would be possible.

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