Since I had only been back in California a brief time since the holidays, I had nothing to eat in the house. My mom and I decided to go to the grocery store after the surgeon. I knew my mom needed her coffee if she was going to survive this but she has always had a way of making sure that the house was stocked with groceries in a time of crisis. Smart lady. I wouldn't have thought of that. The first section of the market that we attempted to tackle was produce. We were in a fog and it's hard to concentrate on anything, let alone groceries, when your world is spinning out of control. It was right there in the produce section that my angels began to ascend. My phone rang and it was my friends calling from a salon that I sold my jewelry to and that I had worked at a few years prior. They were calling to check up on me and to see what the surgeon had said. I told them that the surgeon said she was 99.8% sure that I had Hodgkins Disease. This was obviously very bad news but what made the sting even worse was the fact that I did not have health insurance. I had stopped paying my insurance sometime in that last year because I had been running out of money. I hadn't been able to work very much because I had been feeling so sick. I was screwed in more than one way.
While I'm telling my friends at the salon my situation, there was a woman standing at the counter in front of them listening to our phone conversation. Her name was Reva. Reva asked my friends if she could talk to my mom. Reva was a client at the salon, a doctor who worked in research and had purchased my jewelry from time to time. I didn't remember her but she remembered me. Reva got on the phone with my mom and told her not to worry and that she would make a few phone calls and make sure I was treated. She also gave my mom her phone number and said that we should call her if we needed anything at all. This was exciting news but I really didn't know what she could do to help my situation. I wasn't giving up hope though.
Within the next couple of days, Dr. Almost Killed Me called to say that I did have Hodgkins for sure. He gave me a number to an Oncologist, which I had no intention of calling. I was done with him. I didn't want to have anything to do with him or anyone he recommended. I figured that he had done enough for me already. Ha! He knew that I didn't have insurance because I had been paying him out of pocket so I did ask if he knew of any hospitals that would treat an uninsured cancer patient. He said, "No. Can't you ask your parents for money?" Ask my parents for money? It's not like asking to borrow $100 or even $10,000.00. He knew that. Again, complete asshole. I had never been to a county hospital but I knew they had to exist. I mean, right? I called Reva. She said that she would get an appointment for me at UCLA. Besides the initial appointment, I had no idea how I was going to pay for anything. I had already paid out of pocket for several visits to Dr. Almost Killed Me, for the CAT scans, and for the surgeon. After many phone calls to many people, trying to figure out if I could get treated anywhere, all roads led to the social services in West LA. Reva arranged an appointment for me at UCLA so my mom, my sister, and I decided to stop at the social service office first.
As far as I was concerned, I was ready to administer the chemo to myself! Every minute that passed was an opportunity for that beast to continue to grow inside of me. I wanted chemo NOW. We went to the social services building off of Pico Blvd. and it was a cold place. There were bullet proof windows that the workers sat behind inside a big room. There were lots of people there. The wait was very long. I sat in that room wondering what everyone else was doing there. Were they there for food stamps? Were they dying too? After hours of waiting, we finally got called upstairs. When we got up there and they told me that I could only bring one person in with me and the other person would have to wait outside. My sister went into the interview with me and my mom waited. We sat in front of the the social workers desk and I told her why I was there. I have cancer. I don't have any money. I don't have any insurance. I need to be treated. I need your help. She began to ask me questions..."How old are you?"..."Are you an American citizen?"..."Do you have AIDS?"..."Do you have breast cancer?"..."Are you pregnant?" And so on, and so on, and so on. At the end of the questions she said, "I can't help you. There's nothing I can do for you." WHAT?????!!!!! What do you mean you can't help me? I've worked for almost 20 years. I always paid my taxes. I've never asked for any help EVER and I have CANCER!!!!!! The social worker said, "Well, you aren't under 21 years of age. You aren't a foreigner. You don't have AIDS. You don't have breast cancer, and you aren't pregnant." Did I just hear this lady right? These are the qualifications???!!! I said, you do realize that I WILL DIE if I'm not treated? She said, "Yes, I understand. But your cancer is treatable." I said that doesn't help me. If my treatable cancer isn't treated, I'M GOING TO DIE. This is when my sister jumped in and said, "She's going to die if you don't help her." The social worker said,"Well, MY sister had cancer. It was a very rare cancer and she didn't make it. She died. It happens." At this point tears start streaming down my sisters cheeks. I didn't feel like crying. I was pissed off. I thought the woman sitting across the desk was as helpful as a dragon and I wanted to punch her in the face for making my sister cry by basically telling her that, "My sisters dead, and now? Yours is too." Instead of punching her in the face, I asked her if there was any chance at all that I could try a hospital like USC that I could just try walking into their emergency room and MAYBE they would treat me? The dragon lady said, "No. No one will take you. Plus there is a waiting list EVERYWHERE. You will NEVER get in."
The three of us got in the car and started heading towards UCLA for the appointment that Angel Reva had made for me. I sat in the back seat and listened to my mom and my sister go crazy. They were scared, upset, and angry. In my head, I didn't go there. I didn't care what the dragon lady said. I wasn't going to go home and die. I was going to be treated. I knew it. I didn't know how or where, but some how I knew that I would be treated. As we walked into UCLA's cancer unit, the first thing we passed was a wig store. I was thinking...and so it begins. My tests and biopsy was being read by a world renowned Pathologist named Dr. Saad which was pronounced "said." I don't know why I thought this was funny but I kept saying Dr. Saad said. Maybe I took it as a sign. Whatever Dr. Saad said was the truth. They called us in to meet with two oncologist for the pathology reading. I was nervous because this is when they give you the stage number you are at. I was hoping for stage 1 but deep down I knew better. They told me that I was borderline stage 3 - 4. The tumor was so large that it was completely smashing my right lung and pushing my trachea over so far that they were afraid I was going to choke to death. The tumor went from the right side of my chest all the way over to the left, almost touching my heart. Because of this, they decided to stage me at 4 and treat me accordingly. This meant that I was going to be receiving the highest and most potent doses of chemotherapy that are possible. They had arranged for me to check into a county hospital the next morning which was an annex of UCLA. It was run by UCLA. They said that I would be in there over the weekend getting tests done. They would check my heart, my lungs, blood work, more scans, and a bone marrow test. I had heard about bone marrow tests and I knew I didn't want any part of it.
We left UCLA feeling better and terrified at the same time. Ever since the biopsy, I had been getting worse fast. It seemed like messing with the tumor had pissed it off. I was relieved to know that I was checking into a hospital, and that I had had a great pathologist review my case, but how was this all happening? What had the Reva done for me? How was this going to get paid for? I had no idea but I had faith and I knew that Reva was an angel here on Earth for me. I knew it, I believed, and I prayed...