At 38, Caddell had not yet had any mammograms, which are normally issued at age 40. But during her routine physical, her doctor said he wanted to establish a baseline for when she started receiving the regular screenings, so he scheduled her for her first one. The baseline, she said, “didn’t look so good.” Neither Caddell nor her doctors could feel any lumps, but the baseline image was enough to prompt the doctor to send her for further imaging. On Caddell’s last day of work — the last day she had health insurance — the doctor confirmed she had two small lumps in her left breast.
Since the radiologist at Scripps’ Polster Breast Care Center knew about Caddell’s insurance situation, he and a team of nurses worked overtime, racing to get biopsies of the lumps that same day. The following Monday, Caddell’s first day of unemployment, she got the diagnosis: both lumps were malignant.
“That’s when the whirlwind started,” said Caddell, a La Jolla resident. “I had money saved up, but that was for while I was going to be unemployed. I never imagined I’d be battling breast cancer and paying for that.”
Caddell’s cancer hadn’t metastasized, and her surgeons felt a lumpectomy would be sufficient. After the surgery and six and a half weeks of radiation, Caddell finished her treatment on Jan. 18, though her ordeal is far from over.
In December, Caddell decided to get involved with the local chapter of Susan G. Komen For the Cure. It was there, upon meeting executive director Laura Farmer Sherman, that she discovered the wealth of programs and assistance available to breast cancer patients — information that would have been helpful while she was undergoing treatment.
“Basically, I didn’t qualify for any financial assistance because I’m not in active treatment,” she said. “But when you’re undergoing treatment, you’re trying to sort out what’s going on. It’s like a bomb has gone off in your life.”
Caddell searched for financial assistance through a number of organizations: she didn’t qualify through the American Cancer Society “because I’m considered middle class,” nor was she able to secure any funds from Ford Motor Company’s Ford Cares. The Pink Fund, which provides basic living expenses to breast cancer patients, denied Caddell because the organization stipulates that recipients must have been employed at the time of their diagnosis — a deadline Caddell missed by one day.
“It’s incredibly disheartening to know there was assistance sitting there and no one told me about it this whole time,” she said. “I’ve been scrambling to backpedal and get any assistance I can, and at this point all I qualify for are food stamps.”
The only assistance Caddell has thus far received is reimbursement for some of her out-of-pocket medical expenses through the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program, which, she said, has given her “some breathing room.”
As for her health, Caddell will be on the breast cancer drug tamoxifen for five years, and, due to the high chance of recurrence within the first three years, her physicians, she said, “will watch me like a hawk” during that time.
“You go from being so healthy — never had surgery, never get colds. Suddenly, I’ve been introduced to this voice in the back of my head,” she said. “I have to tell the oncologist about anything unusual — even a cough, an ache or a pain. I just wonder, ‘How did I get here?’”
Caddell is using her experience to make sure other women don’t go through something similar. A friend she made in a breast cancer support group, whose situation is similar, has benefited from her advice on programs and how to obtain assistance. And, as she gets stronger day by day, she plans to continue working with Susan G. Komen to get the word out to area hospitals and healthcare providers to educate doctors and nurses about available programs, in the hopes they’ll in turn be able to provide more assistance and information to their patients.
“It may sound crazy, but I’m truly, truly grateful for this experience,” Caddell said, citing a quote describing cancer as a catalyst for change, which, she said, perfectly described the changes in her life that included, in addition to her health woes, a decision to leave the corporate world behind when she lost her job. “That [quote] resonates with me so much because I knew even from the beginning it would change me in profound ways. I felt like I had been doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result. This forced me to try something different.
“The bottom line is that it’s all good. Breast cancer [treatment] has made massive strides over the last 20 years, 10 years — even in the last seven years. Women like myself, who are diagnosed under 40, are surviving, whereas before we weren’t. I feel lucky I am where I am.”
Susan G. Komen for the Cure will award $1.4 million to breast-health programs throughout San Diego County at the annual Grant Award Ceremony on April 18. Grantees include:
- Community Clinic Health Network
- Scripps Mercy Hospital, Chula Vista
- La Maestra Family Clinic
- Operation Samahan
- San Ysidro Health Center
- Somali Family Service of San Diego
- Vista Community Clinic
- Breast Cancer Solutions
- MANA de San Diego
- Jewish Family Services of San Diego
- Mama’s Kitchen, and more
For more information, visit www.komensandiego.org.