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September 8, 2017
Careers and Clinical Drug Trials and Tribulations

In the fall of 2010, Chris was already starting to run low on treatment options for her bone cancer, after having been a cancer patient for just over two years. She had already gone through chemo twice: the first time in late 2008 and then again in 2010 after her remission was ended by the discovery of new tumors.

As 2011 dawned, Chris was desperate to save her life. Fortunately for Chris, her oncologist had a clinical drug trial available at his practice, and he was able to get her into it. He said that the drug trial should be somewhat easier on Chris’s body, although she would start to lose her hair again, just after it had started growing back after the second round of chemo.

It was starting to become clear to us that Chris might not ever go back to work. Even working part-time as an interior designer at OE had been too much for her after she had gone through chemo the second time, and so she had been forced to take another leave of absence. Her immune system was wiped out, and Chris would often get a minor illness that would land her in the hospital for several days at a time, since she could no longer fight off infections. Chris was also exhausted from the cumulative treatments, and had no stamina. Since she was no longer able to work, Chris reluctantly went on Social Security Disability. She was able to stay on her company’s COBRA healthcare coverage for a time, too, and it gave us great peace of mind that we had at least some financial protection against catastrophic medical bills.

Things had become a bit challenging where I worked, at EMA, and we had experienced some layoffs due to the ups and downs of the economy and how it impacted the advertising industry. One day, I got called into my boss’s office. Gene was there along with Matt, the senior partner that ran our office. They had some tough news to share with me. They told me that I was at risk of being laid off, unless I was able to make a renewed commitment to being at the office every day. That would mean that I would no longer be able to go to treatments with Chris, and that she would have to somehow manage to become more self-sufficient without relying on me as much.

That news was devastating to me, and for about twenty-four hours, I seriously thought about letting EMA lay me off so that I could do what I thought was the right thing, and in my mind, that meant taking care of Chris. However, after discussing the situation with her, we decided it was more important for me to have a steady monthly income, especially since her income had been reduced substantially by going on disability. I let management know the next day that I wanted to stay with the company, and that I would comply with the new restrictions they had put in place for me.

For several months, the clinical trial that Chris was participating in seemed to be working, keeping new tumors at bay. And then one day, something odd happened: Chris started having vision problems. She went to her optometrist, and there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with her eyes.

A few weeks later, Chris had some routine CT and MRI scans. In his typical understated way, Dr. Livingston, Chris’s oncologist, shared the scan results with us and told us that Chris had a new tumor. It was located in her head, and it was putting pressure on her optic nerve, which was causing her visions issues. While we were happy to get to the bottom of her vision problems, we were also dismayed to learn that Chris had a new tumor. The doctor had some additional bad news to share with us. He let us know that Chris would no longer be eligible to participate in the clinical trial since she had a new tumor. While it was true that the clinical trial was extending her life, it was also true that this new tumor disqualified Chris from participating in the trial. Since he was now out of treatment options for Chris, her oncologist referred us to a radiation specialist, and suggested that highly-focused radiation beams might be enough to destroy the tumor that was growing inside her head.

ime marched on for us. 2011 came to a close and 2012 began. In mid-March, I arrived home from work on a sunny, late-winter day. Chris had been undergoing radiation treatments for a few weeks by that point.

Chris greeted me and said, “Hi, honey. I have something to tell you.” She had a serious expression on her face. I started to panic just a bit, thinking that it might be something medical-related. I said, “OK, I’m listening.” Chris continued, “You still really like me after all these years, right?” I thought it was an unusual, if not funny, question. “Yes, babe, I still love you after all the years we’ve been together,” I replied. She said, “That’s great news, because I made a big mistake signing up for Medicare.” I was a bit perplexed.

Chris explained that she had signed up for medical and prescription drug plans that were not compatible, and that by doing so her medical coverage had been automatically canceled. Chris also said that due to her ongoing high medical bills, if she was to be covered by regular Medicare, it would cost us tens of thousands of dollars just in that year alone. I was floored. I didn’t see a path forward, but Chris said that she had a clever solution. “I’m glad that you still really like me, because I need to marry you for your health insurance!” It was one of the most unexpected, and yet, happiest moments of my life! Just like that, on a seemingly ordinary day, and after a nearly fourteen-year wait, Chris had finally agreed to become my wife.

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Scott G. Howard worked in the advertising agency business as a media buyer and media director for nearly twenty-five years. He is now an author, storyteller, and freelance writer, and writes from his unique perspective on relationships and life. Scott was born in Syracuse, NY and resides in Charlotte, NC, where he has lived for almost twenty years.
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