We published this personal story about Emily’s battle with breast cancer in honor of October, Breast Cancer Awareness month. Emily chronicled her journey through her blog, The Bright Side: Breast Cancer at 31, bringing to life the highs, lows and very human experience of being diagnosed with such a serious disease at such a young age.
In this essay, she reveals another side of illness not often explored—the toll it takes financially. Emily passed away on September 27, 2013, at the age of 35. We are proud to tell her story and to remember Emily, who we knew and loved.
-The LearnVest Editors
New Year’s weekend 2010 I was feeling pretty good.
I had been happily working as an account director at a small New York City–based public relations firm for three and a half years. The job had already taken me to amazing destinations across the world: Bora Bora, London, and on a cruise to Greece and Turkey, to name a few.
That fall I’d been especially busy, but I’d kept up with everything and really enjoyed it. Most evenings I’d return to the one-bedroom apartment I owned in Hoboken, N.J., and feel pretty satisfied. I was doing well for 31 years old.
It was only a few days into the new year when I changed into pajamas and saw that my right breast looked not quite right—like the nipple was squished. I imagined that maybe I’d leaned on it, but the next morning it still looked strange.
I was nervous, but I got up the nerve and did a self breast exam. I didn’t find a lump, but my whole right breast felt hard, completely different than the left one. I called my mother on the way to work and she insisted I make a doctor’s appointment. I did. That first doctor seemed unconcerned and sent me for a perfunctory mammogram and sonogram two days later.
I went to that fateful appointment on Thursday by myself. After the sonogram, as I was still laying on the table, the radiologist and breast surgeon came into the room together and broke the news: I needed to have a biopsy immediately to confirm what they suspected—breast cancer.
“Is there any chance it could be something else?” I asked.
“I really don’t think so,” replied the surgeon. “If the biopsy came back negative, I would redo it.” That’s how sure she was.
They had to squeeze me into the schedule, so I waited around all day. I called my mother first from an unused storage room they gave me for privacy, and she and my father got into the car instantly and drove the hour to meet me. I called my boss to say I wouldn’t be coming back to work that day. I cried.
My parents arrived, I had the biopsy, and the tests confirmed what we’d already suspected: I had cancer.
The First Few Months With Cancer
After a series of tests and doctor’s appointments, I learned that specifically I had cancer in my breasts and liver. I would need chemotherapy for four months to shrink the tumors, a mastectomy on one side, liver surgery ten days later, and then breast radiation.
Already, the prices without insurance would have been staggering. I was lucky in the sense that I had decent health insurance (an employer-sponsored policy through Oxford that took an automatic $412.01 out of my paycheck each month), an understanding boss and a supportive family. After the $1,000 annual deductible, there was a 20% coinsurance charge with a $3,000 maximum. I didn’t necessarily know it then, but I’d be maxing that out each year for as long as I was sick. That meant at least $4,000 out-of-pocket each year, not counting copays, prescription costs or doctors who were out of network.
My treatments continued until that next spring 2011, when I had a clear PET scan. I was in remission!
Unfortunately, the celebration only lasted a few months. My August scan showed that the cancer was back in my liver and there was a spot on my spine, and they gave me two radiation treatments—and started me on another round of chemo. It was a devastating blow.