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Update from Tiffany Marley

Edith SpeedI want to thank you for the emotional and financial support during a very difficult battle in my life. This is a battle that I am still fighting and winning—the battle against locally advanced breast cancer. It is a great surprise to a young woman to be struck with such a disease in her reproductive years. The cancers that young women face are usually very aggressive and there is usually no family history of cancer. Treatment can be very expensive and take almost a year if it progresses to Stage III. Even with insurance, my share of the expenses and my loss in wages made it difficult just to pay for the chemotherapy. You helped me pay the remainder of my bill that I was struggling with.

There has to be a way to help more women find cancer earlier. Remember to do those monthly self-exams. Consider doing a mammogram before 40. Don’t assume that you can’t get breast cancer while you are pregnant—make sure your obstetrician does a breast exam on your first visit. Lobby for research for better screening tools for young women as ultrasound and mammograms don’t always find tumors on younger breasts. I applaud you for all their efforts to increase breast cancer awareness.

As for me, I finished my radiation treatment last November and my cancer remains in remission. I am winning this battle and will continue to fight cancer for the rest of my life. I will be there in spirit for the Bowling for Boobies fundraiser but won’t be able to make it this year. Even though my savings were depleted, we were able to save again for the closing costs and buy a small home in Austin, Texas. I have always dreamed of owning a home and hope to adopt someday and fill our place with children. I am also interested in doing work with a group here that is focusing on issues that face young adults surviving cancer.

My greatest wish is that this is the most successful Bowling for Boobies event ever!

Tiffany Marley

A letter from Tiffany Marley

After 11 years of working odd jobs from veterinarian assistant to mortgage banker, I somehow managed to put myself through school and earn a bachelor of arts in English literature. I thought I would substitute for a year as a high school teacher. I found that I was being called for jobs in elementary school. I really fell in love with the third grade class that I covered for several months. That spring I applied to the multiple subject credential program at SFSU. I took out student loans for two years and got my teaching credentials.

I taught for four more years at a Title I (low income) performing arts elementary school in San Francisco. During that time, I met my husband at the Burning Man Arts Festival. We were friends at first, but eventually tried dating even though he lived in Los Angeles while I was in San Francisco. Eventually we felt like we couldn't be apart any longer so I moved to Los Angeles and we married two years ago.

After a couple months of searching I found my ideal job. I now teach at a science magnet school in a beautiful neighborhood. The magnet schools were formed at a time when school districts were trying to end segregation. I have students from all over the district and over half of them are living below the poverty level. Our students are able to attend school in a safe neighborhood and have enrichment classes in the sciences, art and music.

After getting settled in to a new job and happy new marriage to a man I love completely, we decided to try and have a child. We tried for almost a year and had also applied to be foster parents. Just after the foster agency completed the home study I was happily surprised to find that I was pregnant. It was truly the happiest time of my life. I was pregnant with Rob's child and I was teaching at a school that I loved.

Ten weeks into my pregnancy, I had a visit to an obstetrician. In addition to showing me an ultrasound of baby, she examined me and found a large lump in my breast. I had noticed changes in my breasts, but thought it was due to pregnancy. I had an ultrasound and then a biopsy. The biopsy showed that I had a good sized tumor and lymphatic involvement. I was shocked, how could this happen during the happiest time of my life? How could I treat the cancer without harming my baby? Would I live to raise this child?

I met with a surgeon and we scheduled surgery to remove my left breast during week 15 of my pregnancy, hoping that baby would be mature enough to tolerate the general anesthesia that would be necessary for this procedure. During week 13, I started bleeding and cramping. I saw my obstetrician and she was unable to detect my baby's heartbeat this time. She explained that my baby had died and that I would miscarry it or she could schedule a D & C. I miscarried for two days and during this time I was strongly urged to keep my appointments with other doctors who could help treat my very aggressive cancer.

After an MRI, PET/CT, bone scan, x-rays and blood tests they determined that I had not a 3 cm tumor, but a 6 x 8 cm tumor with several lymph nodes involved. I talked to several doctors. I was frustrated at how slowly things moved with my HMO. I read the statistics that told me I my chances of surviving 5 years were 50 - 60 percent. I wanted to live. I wanted to beat the odds.

I decided to choose the best doctors I could, some in my network and some out of network. For those out of network, I would have to pay 30% of the bill. I was told that after $7,500 of out of pocket expenses, my insurance would then kick in 100%. I was surprised at how fast I got to $7,500 during my neoadjuvent chemotherapy treatment. I tried working through my first three rounds of chemo but when I was hospitalized and put in isolation for having blood counts that were dangerously low and a raging fever, I realized that it was no longer possible to work during treatment. I took my second leave of absence for the year. During the leaves I receive only 50% of my modest salary. I've been making modest payments to my oncologist and was hoping to have a year or two to pay off my bill. Unfortunately Blue Cross reimburses them at such a low rate that they are already writing off professional fees but need me to come through to help cover the cost of the drugs that are hopefully going to save my life. They would like my bill paid off by the end of the year.

My husband is trying to support us through this time with his modest salary. I hope to be well enough to return to work in the fall. I hope that I can work and go to radiation every day for a couple of months. My husband is also taking time off this summer to care for me after my surgery. I think we can pay a good portion of the bill by the end of the year, but definitely not the whole thing. Some friends have chipped in to the tune of $1,000 dollars and I've paid the doctors $1,200 so far from my own funds. I believe that I can come up with another $2,200 before the end of the year. That would leave us $3,000 short. The billing department indicated that if we could pay most of it by the end of the year they might be able to discount a portion of my bill. Currently I am working full time and going to radiation every day before work. I used up all my sick leave last year, so I have to work or I lose what benefits I do have. Any help at this point could really get us close to meeting the goal.

Thank you for reading my story.

Tiffany Marley