For the last few days or so everything has been a “moving target” for me with an initial consultation with the radiation doctor explaining everything medically and checking me out and now we are putting a plan together with her staff and on the calendar, plus I’ve arranged to pay for it. And oh yes, this doctor is a specialist in radiation to the head and neck! 🙂 Hopefully my surgery neck swelling will soon be gone and the tender scars on my left face and neck healed better than they are now. I’m still sore and sensitive with only minor internal pain that I treat with Ibuprofen. They prefer these surgery “irritations” gone before they create new ones with radiation! 🙂
Below is their 3-step plan AND
“My Plan to Make it Fun.” 🙂
Step 1: MRI — April 12
This is extremely important because to “Map” where the radiation will go, they must find where every little trace of cancer is still in the roots of that facial nerve to target all of them. If they don’t get all the tiny bits of cancer zapped, then they will travel the nerve to the brain and brain cancer is much worse. Of course they are also looking for other traces of cancer in the cheek and neck which will be easier to find and zap than those in the nerves. This is a tedious job of mapping where the radiation goes and just as important as administering it.
Radioterapia Siglo XXI is doing everything related to radiation except this MRI they are sending me to the only hospital that takes my Medismart Card, Hospital Metropolitano for the MRI. They are considered “working partners.” And they have a hospital campus on my side of San Jose in Lindora, much closer than San Jose!
Step 2: CT Scan & Plastic Mask — April 13
The Spanish acronym for one of these is TAC and I haven’t learned those words yet. 🙂 It could be the CT Scan or the mask-making. She showed me one of the masks that will be similar to mine. It is a hard plastic mesh or see-through form of my head and shoulders. I will lay down perfectly still (not easy for me!) and they will drape my head and shoulders with this soft, warm, wet plastic that will form to the shape of my face, neck, etc. down over the shoulders. Once they are satisfied that I have been “molded” they will do something to cool the plastic until it gets hard. Then they can remove it from my body.
For each of the radiation sessions I will be wearing this mask that will be screwed down to the table I’m laying on to make sure I don’t move. There is still more that I don’t know about this and will learn as I go. But I kind of think the mask may have numbers or markings of some kind to help guide the radiation tool to make sure it goes where it is needed. I’m sure I will have to update this explanation at some point to make it more accurate. She didn’t get to that many details the other day.
Step 3: The Radiation Therapy — April 19 to May 28
That will start on a Monday and I will have it daily, Monday-Friday for six weeks is the plan now, meaning that I will go weekly through the month of May, finishing on May 28. I am to keep the month of June free of trips or other major activities to rest since most people are very tired by the end of radiation. By the end of June I should have regained my strength, taste (if my taste is affected like some but not all), and my pink or red skin (like sunburn) on my left cheek and neck will also be back to normal. If there are any other side-affects, then they too should be gone four weeks after the last radiation. Meaning I have nothing planned for June, but have kept my July trip scheduled and the doctor thinks I should be able to make it with no problems and it will be one of my best, to the southern tip of the Osa Peninsula, Bosque del Cabo, my goal or target at the end of Cancer! 🙂
Again, I will share more details about radiation, with more accuracy as I go through this, but above is my basic understanding of April & May for me.
How I Plan to Make Radiotherapy a Fun Adventure
That’s right! You have to plan to have fun and not be miserable! 🙂 And most of what you hear people say about radiation therapy is “miserable.” So, my goal is not! 🙂
Because I have no car and pay a driver for the long, high-traffic drive to and from San Jose that takes between 1 and 2 hours each way, depending on time and traffic, I have figured I can actually save money over a daily taxi trip by staying 4 nights a week in a nearby hotel.
It will make treatment seem more like a “vacation” in addition to saving travel money, plus being in beautiful gardens, having multiple restaurant options for dinner and a free breakfast prepared for me each morning! 🙂
Then I may take advantage of their “city tours“ to a few places in San Jose I haven’t seen and maybe repeat the museums that change exhibits, giving me plenty to do and see in 3 full days a week for 6 weeks. And Parque La Sabana is not far from the hotel, like Central Park in NYC. And if I start getting tired towards the end, as a lot of people do, then, I will just enjoy the gardens, internet and even their cable TV that I don’t have at my house! 🙂
The plan would be for my driver to get me to San Jose in time for my Monday treatment and pick me up right after my Friday treatment and I’m in the hotel or exploring San Jose in between. I think it will be a great way to make radiation fun! 🙂 It might be like a 6-week vacation! And you can follow the radiation adventures right here on this blog! 🙂 See ya’ next time!
And Oh Yes – the Cost!
I promised some readers who are considering retirement in Costa Rica to share the financial cost as you compare medical in your home country with medical services here. Generally all medical services here in Costa Rica cost only a fraction of the same service in the U.S., which is why we are a “medical & dental vacation hot spot!”
Americans should be aware that your Medicare does not cover anything overseas beyond a limited 3 to 6 month “vacation” accident or illness while your primary residence is still in the states. I keep paying for Medicare “just in case” I have to go back to the states, though not in my plans. The only private insurance that works here are a few “international policies” that are generally very expensive with high deductibles and Costa Rica has private medical insurance which is also very expensive at my age, more than I was willing to pay and still with deductibles. I do have a local “medical discount card” – MediSmart – which I tell about below and used for this radiation treatment.
The public health care system here is considered one of the best in the world but like most such systems is very slow and my doctor said that I would have to wait too long to get scheduled for both the surgery and the radiation, risking the cancer traveling the nerve to my brain and brain cancer is really bad! So even though I have used the public health system here, even two nights in a public hospital ward with excellent service, I chose the safer/quicker route of private health care here that equals or surpasses any other in the world.
My dermatologist discovered the “lump” on my left cheek and encouraged me to go to Dr. Christian Hernández at private Hospital La Católica as the best cancer surgeon in Costa Rica for the head and neck, his rather narrow specialty! 🙂 I loved him and still have confidence that I got the best possible approach to my cancer. His cost with a team of 5 in the operating room was an even $6,000 USD. Two nights in Hospital La Católica with operating room, pre-op services, all medications including what I took home and an in hospital visit with an ophthalmologist was $6,100 USD.
With only two options in country for radiation treatment, the main public hospital, Hospital Mexico, with a long waiting list or the only private service, Radioterapia Siglo XXI; my doctors all encouraged the latter that I am working with. Unlike the surgeon or hospital I used, they are in my healthcare discount savings plan called “MediSmart” here with a MediSmart Card I carry in my billfold. It has cost me about $13 a month for the last few years with much more value than private insurance. I did have to add an “oncology rider” to the plan for about $2 a month (sounds like something American companies would do), but well worth it. I am now saving about 50% on the cost of radiation therapy! It will cost me $12,000 USD that includes everything like the MRI, CT Scan, and mask-making.
Obviously – to use private healthcare here requires one to have savings or other money somewhere to pay for it, even if it is less than half what it would cost in the states! My generation was taught the importance of emergency savings and though I don’t have near as much as I feel I “should,” I had enough to cover this and we will wait and see how many, if any more emergencies before I can always fall back on the public health system here at no additional cost other than the monthly payment I make to CR Social Security of about a $100 a month now.
TOTAL COST FOR THIS CANCER, start to finish will be: $24,000 USD.
Of course everyone saves and has their money put back in different ways, but since I am very open in sharing everything, I’ll tell you that I paid for this emergency medical cost by cashing in two CDs and pulling the second $12,000 from my 401k. It is my money and I’m not likely to outlive what is in it now, so another good use of a 401k in my opinion.
Anyone wanting to know more specifics or have other questions, you may ask in the Comments below or use my Contact menu item to message me and I will email back my response.