“I love my insurance company” is not a phrase you hear very often, but it’s something that Mara Street says with sincerity.
In 2011, her insurance company, TriCare, called and left an automated message on her answering machine. The message said, “Our records show that you’re over forty-years-old and haven’t had a mammogram,” going on to suggest that it was time Mara had one.
Mara considered the message but ultimately chose to ignore it. She was in good health and had no family history of breast cancer.
About a month later, Mara received another message from her insurance company, and again the automated recording encouraged her to get a mammogram. TriCare’s continued concern led Mara to meet with her primary care doctor and schedule a mammogram. The test revealed a lump in her breast and a biopsy of the lump found cancer.
“When I was first diagnosed, so many feelings went through my mind,” says Mara. “If I was going to be having months of chemo, I wasn’t going to be able to be a good mom and a wife. That’s what scared me the most.”
However, TriCare saved Mara yet again. Within two weeks she received a partial mastectomy and was recommended for Mammosite Radiation Therapy, a treatment that would only take one week. Though insurance does not typically cover people under 50 for this treatment, Mara spoke with TriCare and received special approval to proceed. After two treatments a day for one week, Mara was cancer free. The time taken away from her family was minimal compared to what it could have been.
“A lot of people moan about their insurance companies but I never will again,” says Mara. “Mine saved my life.”
According to Kate Bahr, feeling broken is one of the hardest parts of dealing with her cancer. When she was diagnosed in 2014, she had been carrying mail for the U.S. Postal Service for nearly 30 years. She was in good shape and had never had cancer in her family.
Yet, testing found that Kate not only had breast cancer, but a hardening of her uterus as well. In a single day, she learned that she would need both a mastectomy and a hysterectomy.
Because Kate was in such good health, she and her doctors decided to perform both procedures at once, limiting the recovery time (though it was still a grueling six weeks). Support from loved ones helped her through that tough time. But she still felt broken.
One reason was her lymphedema. In the process of removing her breast, doctors took out seven lymph glands. With the glands gone, thick lymph fluid was building up. Unable to drain properly, her chest was swelling to a frighteningly large size.
“It was scary,” says Kate. “They were going to send me to Billings for treatment but I found a therapist at the Great Falls Clinic who does lymphedema massage, Patti Jo. She was a godsend.”
As swollen as Kate’s chest had become, all it took was a light massage to drain the fluid. Kate was back to normal by the end of the visit.
“I’ll have lymphedema the rest of my life but now I know how to treat it right away,” she says.
Reducing her swelling helped Kate feel more normal, but without one of her breasts she didn’t feel whole. Looking into prosthetics, she found a woman named Bunny at Clark’s Orthopedics. “Bunny gets you a prosthetic and bra, and it’s like you’re you again,” explains Kate. “To everyone you look normal.”
Kate still sees a doctor twice a year and will be taking cancer medication for ten to prevent recurrence, but with the help of Patti Jo and Bunny, she feels a lot more like herself.
“It’s nice not having to be self-conscious,” she says.