Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Verdict Is In...Lives Expendable

I am in complete disbelief about the new healthcare guidelines issued today for mammograms. It's a hard pill to swallow when you find out that the value placed on your life is less than a few hundred dollars. I was so bothered by today’s news that I did something that I have never done before. I fired off a rather lengthy letter to the editor of Dallas Morning News. Of course, the likelihood if it getting published is slim, but I was overwhelmed with the consequences this decision will have for women all over this country. Mark your calendars. It won’t be on the news, but lives were lost today. I cried for the boys and girls that will lose their mother because she thought she was safe and decided to wait until 50, but never makes it. I cried for the women that will know they need it, but won't be able to pay out of pocket. So, they too will die. If there is one single woman that you know and love, send this to her. Send it to the men you know that have women they love. Send it to everyone you know that needs to hear it. People just don’t know the truth. I didn’t until it happened to me. It might take 2 minutes to read, but I know it will save lives. Here's my story and what I had to say:

From: Birlew, Yvette
Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 03:47 PM
To: 'letterstoeditor@dallasnews.com'
Subject: Expendable Lives

June 29, 2009 I left work early to get a much overdue mammogram. I wasn't worried about it because in my mind I shouldn't even have to be doing it. I wasn't even 40. But my doctor insisted, so I went. It had been over 2 years since I’d had one. (They found some “harmless” calcifications when I had my original baseline at 35.) I went back for a 6 month follow-up a couple of times. Then I made the decision that I didn’t need to go anymore, at least until I was 40.

This trip to the mammogram place was different. I went in at 2:00 and walked out a little after 5:00, 9 films, 2 sonograms, and a probable diagnosis of breast cancer later. I also got an appointment for a biopsy. It was a full afternoon. Since then, nothing has been the same.

One of the most unbelievable parts of it all is this: 80% of all Breast Cancer occurs in Women with NO Family History of the disease. Some quote a higher percentage, some slightly less, but it’s right there around 80%. No mothers, no sisters, no cousins, no grandmothers. They call it sporadic. Now, I am that statistic. Who knew? I think if more women knew that, they'd never miss a mammogram. I certainly wouldn't have. I had heard so much about having a family history or genetic predisposition that it never occurred to me that I was at risk. No one in my family has ever had it, and I do not have either of the BRCA genes. Besides, isn’t that something that happens to women who are older than I am? That’s what I thought. It isn’t always true.

Since this diagnosis I have spoken to many people about breast cancer. Many tell me all about the frequency of their self-exams. It’s very good that women are doing those, but that is not enough. Don’t assume that because you feel nothing that you are okay. I couldn’t feel mine. My OB-GYN couldn’t feel mine. The people at the mammogram place couldn’t feel mine. Not even my breast surgeon could feel mine. Because of its location it was hidden away like a pipe bomb ready to secretly grow, flourish, and one day take my life. We found it with a mammogram. It really is that simple.

I happen to have a type of breast cancer that is so aggressive that my prognosis could have been quite different if it had the time to grow to a size you could feel. Thankfully, that is not the case. Now thanks to a bilateral mastectomy combined with reconstruction, I have a great prognosis. I will live to raise my young son. To be sure, we are waging war with chemo and adjuvant therapy. A year from now, it should be over. My hair will be growing back, my life returning to normal. Then I will join the ranks of the breast cancer survivors. Too many others won’t have the same outcome.

Now to my horror, I find that a government advisory panel has decided that women like me aren’t worth saving. My government believes that my life is expendable and so are all of the other lives of women who are diagnosed under the age of 50. “Statistically speaking” it isn’t worth the cost of the testing. Really? Tell that to my 5 year old son. Explain to other boys and girls like him that the numbers just didn’t work anymore. Let’s let the people on the advisory panel do that job personally. They can look into the eyes of those children and share that news.

They have justified their reasoning with the fact that some women mistakenly thought temporarily that they might have “it” and were distressed by having a biopsy. Have we grown that stupid as a country? Are we completely asleep at the wheel? Are we going to let them use a statement like that to dictate life and death decisions about our healthcare? Shouldn’t the doctors have a say? After all, I owe my life to my OB-GYN. He made me go. He wanted to be sure. I went because I trust him and my insurance paid for it. Today they say that this recommendation won’t affect our insurance coverage. I don’t believe that. Insurance companies are not in the habit of paying for things without encouragement. Soon, they won’t have to pay for these mammograms either.

This disease touches so many lives, and it takes far more than it should. Because of this new guideline many more will die. That will happen with or without changes in our insurance coverage because women will think it’s safe not to go. Some of them made that decision today. They don’t know it, but today some of them decided to die. They feel more confident that it won’t happen to them. The advisory panel said so. It must be true. Besides, it hurts and it’s embarrassing.

No one wants to do it. But, there is only one way to be sure. Get a mammogram. Pick up the phone and make the appointment. Make today the day that you decide to be sure. No one like me thinks it will happen to them, but 80% of the cases are just like me.

Yvette Birlew
Murphy, TX

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Confident Assurance

What a tough week! Did you know that if you have chemo on a Friday and get exposed to Strep you can get pretty sick? I've spent almost the entire last week in bed. I missed 4.5 days of work. That's enough to be a vacation if I hadn't spent it in bed, missed the top secret unveiling of our year long project at work, and had to skip out on our President's Awards Banquet Weekend. So, the price of being sick was missing out on a bunch of things that I had been looking forward to. But, that's OK because everything happens for a reason. I have faith in that.

Friday when I woke up I flipped my "365 Days of Wisdom for Moms" calendar to Friday, November 13th and landed on this, "Faith is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen." That's Hebrews 11:1, if you're wondering... It got me thinking. How wonderful is that?? Confident assurance... I love that and I have faith in SO many things. So, I've decided to share a few of those...big and small.

One of the small ones is that I have faith that eventually my son will learn to flush the toilet. For now it's like living with a potty-trained cat. He just leaves "presents" in every toilet in the house. Why is that hard???? How do you lose focus between finishing your business and reaching for the handle?? We talk about it all of the time. It's not doing any good yet. But, I have faith that eventually it will.

I also have faith that eventually he will color. This distresses Mom. She's trying to spark the interest so he's not behind in "coloring in the lines" when he goes to school. I'm not worried about that. Turns out both Michelle and I can color in the lines with very little effort. So, she's got a 100% track record. I have faith that she will succeed again. Thanks for taking care of that, Mom.

Then there's the big ones...One of the BIG ones is that I have faith in is the life changing power of scripture. This is SO key to having peace in my life. Without it, I would never have any. My nature is so negative. People that knew me years ago could tell you that. I always had a lot to say, but it was not about building people up. I was usually complaining about something or someone. But, it doesn't have to be that way. And, I don't live that way anymore. No matter what the problem, there's a scripture for that. So, God has something to say about just about EVERYTHING. And, if we just take the time to remember that, we can have what we need to get through it. So, here's just two of my favorites and why they matter to me.

I've already shared this one, Romans 8:28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." That' s one of my favorite scriptures because I have faced many things that would have seemed unbearable or would have broken me for good if I didn't have faith in the fact that I just can't see His plan. Those blueprints aren't made for human eyes.

It's like those pictures that we've all seen where you think you're looking at a picture of something, but it's actually a giant collage of thousands of little pictures of other seemingly unrelated things that have been selected for the color that they add to build the bigger one. I think of God's plan as a cosmic-sized collage where each of us lives in just one of those pictures. We're never going to know in this life the extent of how our lives have affected others for good or for bad or exactly how He's used that. We get glimpses of it, but not full knowledge.

So, good and bad things are working together for our good in our little picture. Please understand I'm not saying that God is responsible for the bad things that happen to us. I'm not saying that. I have, however, seen him use bad things that have already happened to me for good. This cancer is one of them. Some days I see the bad. But, most days I can take a step back and see how much of a blessing it has been. And I certainly don't blame God for my stupid cancer. I just know that he's got the blueprints, I'm not in charge, and it will all be used for good as long as I'm focused on His purpose for my life. That's confident assurance.

Another one is 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." This one has been so important to me for so many things. It had helped me through throwing off more than one bad habit, behavior, or vice. I love this one for many many reasons.

One is the realization that our temptations aren't anything that isn't common to man. Turns out we're NOT special in this regard. TONS of other people have been there. So whatever we battle, we need to get it out of our heads that our situation is more difficult than other people's. It's just not. "But you just don't understand...mine's different..." NO, it isn't! Says so right here in the Bible. That's a cop-out! Now, that's a little tough love/slap in the face. That part took me a little while to digest. If you're the same, just attack it one little bite at a time. But, once we "get" that, the message gets SO much better.

The next three words I camp on and know to be so true. God is faithful. That means that no matter what, He's going to be there. Faithful to the best of God's ability, not the human version of faithful. Since He's perfect, so is his faithfulness. There's never going to be a time when he won't be. If you think about that for a while, it is AMAZING. It means no doubt on this point, period. God is faithful.

Add to that... He won't let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. It may seem like it to you now, but once you focus on the fact that your temptations aren't special and you completely get his faithfulness, it changes. It becomes pretty easy to see that you CAN bear it with His ever-faithful help. Then, it's just a matter of looking for the escape hatch. Because it also tells us that he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. How cool is that?!? Not special, always faithful, not more than you can handle, always a way out. He's going to give us an option that doesn't involve choosing poorly or toughing it out on our own.

So, how to execute that one in a bad situation? It's like being a situational-spiritual MacGyver. I say MacGyver because you're going to have to work fast in most of these situations to get out without making the wrong decision out of reflex. And, not succeeding can have dire consequences. So, here's the steps:
  1. Quickly take in the situation and remember what you know. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.
  2. Be confident in your ever-present help. God is FAITHFUL, and this is NOT more than I can bear.
  3. Then look for the escape hatch. He's promised us one. If you don't see it immediately, pray for it. For me that usually sounded like this, "I need you to show me the way out because right now ____________ is looking like a good idea and I know that you have an escape plan for me. Show me the hatch!"

Once you have a couple successful experiences like that, you'll have confident assurance in that as well. That's not to say that my track record has always been perfect. It's a battle after all. In the beginning I lost more than I won. But using this focus and verse over time has given me the eye for the escape hatch every time. In fact, a bunch of things that I used to be tempted by aren't even a passing thought for me now. And the funny thing is that now I can see how even those experiences are being used for my good. Thank you, Jesus for always meeting me where I am and bringing what only you know I need with you. That's truly my greatest confident assurance.


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