The title of my last post is, “I Hate The Documentary, Project Scleroderma: Beneath The Surface”. I thought about changing the title, but I have decided to keep it, and follow up with this post. I take you on a scenic route to my point, so feel free to jump to the paragraph that is headed in bold type, for my point. There is nothing simple about scleroderm. Every patient is different.
The documentary itself, is a labor of love by those who created it. I have seen clips and is very well done. This documentary
is needed because it informs and educates. What I may have failed to relay in the last post, is that in addition to my denial, I hate the lack of education throughout the medical community. And then there is the issue of spell check here in this Word Press program, that insists on auto-correcting scleroderma to sclerosis. I’ve been acutely ‘aware’ of scleroderma for over twenty years. To say that I am beyond frustrated about how little people know about scleroderma, is an understatement. Luckily there are people who care enough to donate their time and money to amplify the voices of those with scleroderma.
For twenty years, I have been raising so-called awareness. Friends and family “like” my blog’s Facebook Page, but never share my posts. I wouldn’t mind that so much if they weren’t so quick to share every Bible verse or “Save the Tatas” meme. I haven’t had the guts to say this to friends and family, until now.
Dear Family and Friends,
Thank you for asking me how I’m doing and offering to help out, but I would really appreciate it if you would follow up with action like sharing things from my blog- or at least reading it. These memes that you post like “Share if you agree cancer sucks”, seem nice. But I think we can all agree you are sharing the obvious. How about sharing something about an illness that few people know about like, oh I don’t know.. maybe scleroderma? It’s great to see all your selfies at breast cancer runs and the swag you spent a ton of cash on, but when I post about fund raisers why is it so quiet? Seriously all you have to do is share and donate a dollar when there are fundraisers.
There are many of you who do, but you know who you are.
This post may be too honest, but it’s not like anyone reads my blog anyway. I have avoided speaking out to friends and family on Facebook, because I don’t like to complain, and let’s face it: More people have been affected by things like breast cancer. But just because another disease gets more ink, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak up every now and then and say: Ahem.. Over here please!
Yesterday, I posted about hating Project Scleroderma: Beneath The Surface. And if I can express my feelings about dreading to watch the documentary spearheaded by a woman who lost her mom to scleroderma within four months of her diagnosis, it would be irresponsible of me to be honest to strangers and not my friends, family or acquaintances. What it boils down to, I hate having something no one else has heard of. I hate that people share something every day about cancer or God, but rarely share about scleroderma. I hate being a scleroderma patient.
Scleroderma: Beneath The Surface, will help spread the word about scleroderma. Every day, I am reminded that there is very little publicity about scleroderma. I was recently told by a customer service representative at the Social Security Disability office, that her understanding of scleroderma is that it’s a skin condition. I wasn’t rude about it, but I did explain to her what scleroderma does to a human. That it’s far more serious than a skin condition or rash. She was shocked, and I was encouraged by her willingness to learn. I was both encouraged and annoyed that someone who works with disabled Americans, thought scleroderma was just a skin condition. Just thinking about it, makes my hair hurt.
Just because scleroderma doesn’t have the coverage breast cancer “enjoys”, I do not want to diminish how serious breast cancer is, and how its publicity has saved lives. Of course breast cancer continues to kill men and women and still there is so much to be done. Many organizations have made progress because of generous donations. What I see in addition to this great work, is a new industry, and that is something I am not fond of.
We don’t have to agree about everything, but we do agree scleroderma needs to be cured.
So many wonderful Americans, found ways to fund treatment for patients who could not get it, with fundraising. That is a wonderful and selfless accomplishment. And somehow, all of these good intentions have created the Disease and/or Cause market of swag. We all love swag. I don’t know about you, but swag that tells me I’ve done something good gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. Swag needs to be manufactured, marketed and sold. Swag has become profitable when added to big named brands. Do you really believe the National Football League would come out with all that Pink merchandise, if they did not profit from it?
I think it’s wonderful when communities come together. Meanwhile, many individuals who belong to these communities, complain that giving all citizens access to healthcare, no matter what they could pay, is wrong because it’s socialism. Now, before you stop reading this post because I do argue for universal healthcare for all in The United States, hear me out.
People have told me for years that I deserve the best, because I am a veteran. I disagree. I deserve the best because I am a human being. I believe all who are in the United States should have access to the care they need, not what an insurance company or government program is willing to pay for that specific care. Sure, I’m a veteran and I have scleroderma. But wouldn’t my family feel that I deserved the best possible care if I were not a veteran? What if I was you daughter, sister, wife, mother or child? Would you still feel that it would be okay that I am denied treatment because I cannot pay for it? I am also arguing is that veterans have friends and family, they would like to see get the medical treatment they need. (One, two, three, what are we really fighting for?) I have had access to the greatest treatment at the time, for scleroderma after fighting in both the VA system and private sector with what was nicknamed, Golden Insurance.
When things were going well for the business my ex-husband and I owned in the early 2000’s, I chose the company’s health insurance plan. Back then, no matter how much money my spouse made, no insurance company could provide the comprehensive coverage I needed, due to my pre-existing condition of scleroderma, unless I was employed. So, I worked from home and chose such a comprehensive package for our company, it was one of the many reasons our company went bankrupt. I already had access to great care at Loma Linda Veteran’s Hospital. The Chief of Rheumatology told us that my prognosis was getting worse. That if we had private insurance, he would recommend me to a colleague who just happened to be the Chief of Rheumatology at UCLA Medical center. That admission of, “I don’t know what to do next, but I’m going to find someone who might”, saved my life. I owe my life to this great rheumatologist who knew the difference between doing what’s best for his patient, and doing only what he could. Of course, my ticket to the land of affordable second opinions, was money. (That reads funny to me as well, and it’s not my grammar.)
If I did not have insurance, my rheumatologist could have referred me to the West Los Angeles VA, which could have taken months. Meanwhile, Veteran’s health Care was overwhelmed with casualties returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Veteran’s Healthcare system was already overcrowded and underfunded before two wars. My yet to be diagnosed sarcoidosis was simply written off as a symptom of scleroderma, and nothing could be done. So my appointment with a UCLA associated rheumatologist might have taken as long as a year to be seen. My difficulty breathing was dismissed by local doctors and emergency departments in Murrieta and the Loma Linda VA hospital as a symptom of scleroderma. I know this because these things were written in my medical records by whatever resident doctor in the Emergency Room was, who just happened to have little experience with scleroderma patients. At UCLA, my biopsy was expedited because after my pulmonologist at UCLA reviewed several of my chest CT scans from other facilities, he read in the notes that I should have further testing for lymphoma. Following the recommendations of the radiologist’s report of these scans, was a another note commenting the testing for lymphoma results was unnecessary because I had a pre-exisiting condition of scleroderma. The pulmonologist at UCLA ordered a PET scan and the lymhnodes in my chest lit up like a Christmas tree on steroids. There had to be a biopsy done, because everything pointed to cancer. A biopsy of my lymph nodes and lungs were done less than two weeks later. Granulaomas known as sarcoidosis, were found in my lymph nodes. This discovery was huge. My rheumatologist at UCLA ordered a medication that my Golden insurance company and Veteran’s Healthcare formulary, both required the failure of two other drugs before using Remicade. So, my rheumatologist provided the golden insurance company evidence to support my need to skip right over the formulary, and allow for Remicade. It took some time, but in less than six weeks, I received my first infusion of Remicade at my local hospital in Murrieta, not eighty-five miles away at UCLA. The cost was $22,00o per infusion. (Yes, that is a five-figure number for one dose of medication that by the way, saved my life.)
There is no way of knowing for sure if the Remicade stopped the scleroderma from hardening my lungs or the sarcoidosis from making my lymhnodes so large, I would be unable to get the proper amount of oxygen in my blood and my heart would fail. What I do know is that eight years after my diagnosis of sarcodosis, I maintain a stable prognosis. My treatment with a medication that was $22,000 a pop was transferred to the the Veteran’s Hospital at Loma Linda. The rheumatologist who ordered it there, the Chief of Rheumatology presented evidence to counter the formulary restrictions, based not only what was provided to my Golden Insurance’s formulary, but my progress since the treatment began.
There is a continuity of care requirement for medications that are benefiting a patient when there is a change of insurance. I was not able to stay on Remicade because simply because I was already on it. There was a record the Golden Insurance company had, of the valid research backing this decision, and there was evidence that in my case, no matter what was being suppressed by this strong immunosuppressant, the drug was working. At this time, there is no way to know of knowing what Remicade worked to fix. I am one patient with both scleroderma and sarcoidosis. Both chronic illnesses are rare and I have yet to know of another human with both. My rhumatologist at UCLA, who is a leader in scleroderma treatment around the world, just recommended what he thought would be best, based on research that existed at the time and his experience. (The world reference is not an understatement. My doctor is **Dr. Daniel Furst. Go ahead. Google him. We’ll wait…)
But what does this have to do with a documentary about scleroderma?
I live in Southern California. My location alone, allows me access to doctors who have experience with scleroderma, and/or who are actively overseeing and doing scleroderma research. The Veteran’s Hospitals in highly populated areas like LA and Loma Linda are teaching hospitals where young minds go to learn and make progress in treatment and diagnoses because they are med students working with those who teach, do research and have mountains of experience and work, they can build upon to improve care. Teaching hospitals are where progress in treatment are made, and save lives. UCLA doctors and faculty are the specialists who see patients at the West LA VA. Not everyone has as good an outcome as I have had. I am aggressive when it comes to my care. Being able to fight for my care, and get it, has a lot to do with my location. If I lived in Bakersfield, I would have to drive, or take a bus provided by the VA, to see doctors at the West Los Angeles, VA. Why do I know this? Because there are not enough facilities for veterans to get the care and specialization they need in Bakersfield. They travel to LA. This is nothing unique. When I lived in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I had to travel three hours by car, one-way to get the care I needed. At one time, I lived across the street from a hospital that consulted with the Mayo Clinic. Yet I still had to drive three hours one way to see a rheumatologist my VA Healthcare would cover.
Doctors need to be educated, and get the most current information and resources available to treat their patients. Patients should not have to cut medication in half so they can get almost the right dose they need, to save an insurance company money. In fact, insurance companies are the consumers to pharmaceutical companies. The statement: “Cutting medication decreases the cost to the consumer”, is incomplete. Sure, it does cut the cost to both patient and insurance company. Production of medication using the same dosage, increases the profit a pharmaceutical company makes because it does not have to pay for the production costs of a smaller dose of the medication. So we’re inconveniencing and sometimes hindering the care of patients to save a buck. Someone has to make a sacrifice, and it’s going to be a company who answers to shareholders. The company or insurance company does not serve the consumer (patient). It serves the bottom line and it’s shareholders.
From my perspective, medication is viewed as a luxury item, by those who don’t need it. Medication is not a luxury item. Medication extends, improves and saves the lives of We The People. Should anyone be denied lifesaving treatment, simply because they cannot afford it? No, but this has become The American Way. Because providing healthcare to all that is paid for by the Federal Government would be socialist. Yet aren’t we entitled to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”? No, because for some reason it has become the norm to deny people medical treatment they are unable to pay for, and allow them to die. Wait, I know the reason. It’s because we want the freedom not to pay for people less fortunate, like those who are sick and disabled, taking advantage of hardworking Americans. People have limited access to treatment and qualified practitioners. When something the government creates to help those who need medical care but can’t afford it, many companies who benefit by profiting on expensive medication, spend millions to stop expanding care to people who can’t afford care. Not because they are cruel, but because it’s in the best interest of the shareholders. A company cannot be cruel or compassionate. It is a company and exists merely to earn a profit, no matter how helpful they appear. (Companies are not people, my friends.)
Finally, my point:
Scleroderma Project: Beneath The Surface, needs to be seen to show that swag is not what patients need. Sure, swag is nice and don’t we all look good in pink or teal on Instagram at the most recent Race for The Cure? I’m tired of swag. I’m tired of merchandise. Why is it that the disease with the best lobbyists gets all the funding for research? I would love to see less people dressed in a color for their cause, and more money going straight to research for their cause. I don’t hate the documentary itself. I hate what the United States has become and that we need to show people suffering slow, painful deaths to prove that research for scleroderma needs funding, and is not simply a skin condition. So download the movie, watch it then share a link to it and say a little something about it when you do. The world needs to learn about scleroderma. Watching and sharing is what you can do to help scleroderma patients like me.
** Dr. Furst educates rheumatologists around the world. If you would like to find a doctor near you, please contact the Scleroderma Foundation by visiting Scleroderma.org and you will find a doctor closest to you that has proper experience and education. Dr. Furst works with my team of rheumatologsts who treat me through the VA. This is because of my geographical location.
Be sure to visit Project Scleroderma on Facebook and like their page along with Scleroderma Research Foundation and The Scleroderma Foundation. Thank you!