A Miracle in Mexico (where healthcare is good, doctors are accessible, and the cost doesn’t bankrupt you).

(This is the fifth in a new series of blog posts, the focus of which is keeping yourself sane and healthy in the face of Real Trouble. The photos for this series may, or may not, have anything to do with the subject matter. Just some nice photos from Mexico taken during this time.This one is a snapshot of my chemo oncologist, Dr. Juan Feregrino.)

The first thing I knew when the health crisis hit was that I would stay in Mexico to take care of it. The idea of returning to the USA was so hard for me that I don’t think I would have been able to do it and keep my spirits up for staying alive. Fred agreed, and said he would go along with whatever I needed to do. We spoke with the surgeon involved, and he gave us a rough idea of what it would cost to do everything in Mexico. While this was just a general idea, it definitely helped us in deciding to stay. We saw that we could pay for it out-of-pocket, as we had no insurance in Mexico to cover the costs. The total cost of all the traditional medicine treatments—including 5 nights in a hospital (three for the surgery, and two for the last radiation treatment), the surgery, which was long and involved, all the tests and scans, any drugs we had to buy, all the doctors’ fees, the chemo and the radiation, was about $20,000 US. That is a lot of money, but probably not as much it would have cost to live in the USA for 8 months, plus the co-pays that would have been involved if we had chosen to return to the US and use Medicare, and all the many other expenses that would have been part of whole process.
A few of our American friends here in San Miguel that we discussed things with said that they would choose to return to the States. I think a lot of people feel that the US has the world’s best medical care. I never had a really serious health problem while I was living in the US. I can’t really compare the two places, because I have nothing to compare. I can only say everyone has a right to their own opinion. I can also say that you never really know how you would handle a situation until you are actually faced with it. I was so determined to stay in Mexico that all of this advice hit deaf ears. We had just bought our home here, and here is where I wanted to be. One of the earliest realizations I had was that my success for surviving would depend on the amount of normalcy I was able to keep in my life. Normal life to me means being at home, seeing friends, and not giving in to whatever catastrophe that is going on. The thought of us going through the past several months in some place like Houston is simply more abnormal to me than I can imagine.
Now that I am on the other side of this situation I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I know I made the right decision. The health care I have received in Mexico has been outstanding. All the doctors that I have seen have been extremely competent, caring people. They have spoken good English, which I appreciate since my Spanish is still pretty elementary. The nurses and technicians mostly spoke Spanish. I know enough Spanish to communicate in very crude terms, so somehow we all made it work.
The hospitals have all been run very well, extremely well maintained, and well equipped. I had most the treatments in Queretaro, at three different hospitals…one for the surgery, one for the chemo, and one for the radiation. The only treatment I had outside of Queretaro was in León, one of the two hospitals in Mexico where they do the last form of radiation that I needed. I could have chosen to do that in Mexico City, but was advised that in León (which is only an hour from San Miguel) it would be exactly the same treatment at half the cost.
Doctors here are very accessible. My chemo oncologist gave me his cell number and his email, and he always responded if I needed him for any questions. My radiation oncologist used What’s Ap to stay in touch, and sometimes she just sent me a smiley face. She always responded immediately. I felt I could ask these two anything, and that they were there for me. They didn’t ever do that thing where I felt they were in the middle of seeing several patients at once. I felt I had their complete attention.
The doctor I have developed the closest relationship with is my chemo oncologist, Dr. Feregrino, the man in the photo here. In fact, I saw him yesterday to go over the results of my follow up blood work. This guy was so supportive during the chemo treatment process. When I told him I was most afraid of having one of those ports, he arranged my treatments so that I didn’t have to. While I have very small veins and it was sometimes hard to find one to accommodate the insertion of the needle for the chemo, he set me up with a technician who is very experienced and she was able to do it every time. He completely understood my concerns, and instead of insisting I had to go the usual route, found a way to help me avoid what I didn’t want to do. He took the time to consider me as an individual. He showed up for every one of my treatments, hung out with us and visited, never seemed to be in a rush, and always made us feel like he believed I was going to make it. After Fred and I met with him for the first consultation we both had a very good feeling, both about him and about our ability to get through the process.
He was interested in what I was doing with all the alternative treatments I was using. While there seems to be a gulf of distrust between traditional medicine and holistic medicine, I gradually came to see that I could share these things with him. He never made me feel that he disapproved. As I got to know him I came to really appreciate his curiosity and his open mind. I was warned…don’t tell your chemo doctor what you’re doing, he’ll talk you out of it. That was not the case at all.
After my last chemo I had a PET scan. I knew in my heart that I was clear, but I wanted to hear him say it. He was as happy as we were.
I am sure of one thing…every person is different and has a different experience. I can only speak for myself, and I can only talk about my own experience. But, based on my very personal experience, I can say that my medical care in Mexico has been wonderful. I am so glad that Fred and I decided to stay here for this. It was the absolutely the right thing for us to do. I will close this post with a word of advice. When you have a rocky road to travel, your own heart is your best guide. When you decide on the course you will follow, stick with it. Don’t let yourself be distracted by all the advice, articles, and projected fears of your friends and family. That is the main reason I was very, very careful about sharing about my condition while I was in the middle of it. More about that in a future post.

When It Hits the Fan

(This is the second in a new series of blog posts, the focus of which is keeping yourself sane and healthy in the face of Real Trouble. The photos for this series may, or may not, have anything to do with the subject matter. Just some nice photos from Mexico taken during this time.The one here is of three San Miguel policewomen.)

As we drove across the border, I felt that the biggest dream of my life was coming true. Fred and Pinky and I were crossing the Rio Grande in Laredo, but this time was a one-way trip. We were moving to San Miguel de Allende, and Mexico would now be our home. I was very happy and a bit amazed that we were actually pulling this one off. My last post talks more about this move.

We had a rental house in Colonia San Antonio when we first arrived. Shortly after we got settled in the rental house, I started having a disturbing symptom, very slight at first, and I kept telling myself it would go away. I think that many people have this same experience. You feel perfectly fine, but you know something is not right. You think it will go away, but it doesn’t. That was a fearful time for me. While I was in the “this will go away” stage I didn’t tell anyone about the problem. Not even Fred.

We had the very good fortune of finding a house we loved very easily. In fact, we bought the second house we looked at on the first day we looked. We made the offer on the spot. That was in November (I was still in the “this will go away” stage). We moved into the house in December. We zoomed on getting settled in, so by Christmas we were feeling at home. By then I was moving from “this will go away” to “I have to deal with this.”

In early January, I told Fred. Then it started getting real. I knew I had to see a doctor. I started out by thinking it would be something minor. But, I was seriously aware that it might be very major. The next few weeks were a rollercoaster ride of tests, scans, scopes, and pokes. I have always been a very healthy person and all this was a very new experience for me. It somehow felt that I had completely detached from myself and I was watching all this happening to someone else. Part of what I felt was that my body had somehow betrayed me. I felt at physical and psychological odds with myself. I felt a huge gulf between my body and my spirit. These feelings manifested in some strange behavior. I reached a point where I couldn’t even get it together to put on makeup, and if you know me, you know that is a very serious situation.

At the end of all the testing, prodding, and probing…the results were not good at all. The bottom line was that I definitely had tumors in my uterus, and there was a disturbing spot on my liver. I would have to have a complete hysterectomy, done by an oncology surgeon. I got the definite message that there was no time to waste. Nobody was smiling. None of the doctors seemed to get my jokes.

It was pretty hard to even believe all this. I had been truly living the dream of my life and then found myself in the middle of one of life’s biggest nightmares. In the moment that you start to deal with a health crisis you realize that most all other things that you think are a crisis are a blip. At least, that was how it seemed to me. All that I had ever heard, seen, or read, about cancer and cancer treatments had always been terrifying to me. And, no one had given me any reason to believe otherwise. If only someone, back in February of this year, could have sat down with me, looked me in the eye, and just said, “Hey, I’ve been where you are right now. You can get through this. You will make it, and here is a plan.”

That wasn’t what happened with me, but something pretty amazing did happen. I, who knew nothing about any of this, was guided by my own inner guide to put together a team of people to get me through the past many months of my life. The one thing I knew for sure, and Fred agreed, was that I didn’t want to leave Mexico for treatment. While we could have used Medicare in the US, I just didn’t want to go there. It would have seemed like such a personal defeat to me, that I am not sure I would have made it. No, I knew I would stay in Mexico, and I knew I would find the right people to care for me. In future blog posts I will talk more about the care I have had, and the alternative things I have done to keep myself as healthy as possible, resulting in less severe side effects from traditional treatments, and a great deal more sanity.

And, I made it through chemo and radiation. I am now cancer-free and getting on with my life. Am I changed? Both inside and out. But, the majority of these changes are for the better. I will talk more in these posts about my own walk down this strange road. But, I am only talking about my own, very personal, experience. Each person is different. I certainly am no expert about anything. The only thing I know is my own experience. My purpose in this writing is selfish. I want to have the joy of being that person that says to another person, at the highest point of their fear, “You can do this. You can take care of yourself. You can make it. It won’t be as bad as you think.”