Welcome! We are honored to be able to offer this space for comfort, solace, camaraderie and advice to our sisters in need � and all of their family, friends and supporters. Thank you for joining us.
Join our community
 RSS  Twitter  Facebook

My New Boobs Series | “DIEP Disappointment”

Once I had discovered the DIEP breast reconstruction option, my next hurdle was finding a surgeon who could successfully accomplish this very delicate surgery.

I couldn’t find anyone within my insurance’s mandated 50-mile-from-home radius, so I booked a consultation with one of the few doctors in the Northeast who had lots of experience with the DIEP.  His office was on Long Island.  I made the appointment even after learning he was another member of the “I don’t take insurance’ club – a very elite group of doctors and other health professionals who simply won’t accept what the insurance company tells them their work is worth.

Instead, they hire a subordinate, usually a woman, who explains without emotion what the fees are, all the while presenting papers for you to sign, papers that make any and all financial obligations yours, while specifically declaring that whatever you get back from insurance has no bearing whatsoever on what the doctor himself is going to get paid. It’s a very cold slap in the face to be reeling from a diagnosis and then confronted with the reality of financing your recovery, but when you’re freaking out and believe the doctor you just saw is the one who will save your life, it’s easy to sign away, and deal with a different kind of shock when the bills start pouring in.

That’s what happened with my breast surgeon.  Because my City gyno sang his praises, I didn’t think twice about affixing my signature wherever they indicated an ‘x’. Dealing with the fall out of that panicked behavior via soaring monthly payments to a slew of professionals, Bruce and I were a lot more careful about selecting my chemo care.  We interviewed seven oncologists and chose the one who gave us confidence, solid advice and who also accepted our insurance.

This plastic surgeon we were on our way to see was the DIEP Master in these parts, and even though when I spoke with him on the phone he said he’d work with me, both Bruce and I knew there would be some out of pocket expense involved.  Having had that initial conversation, however, and taking the doctor at his word, we arrived in Great Neck optimistic that the price tag would be something we could afford.

His offices were gorgeous.  We sat in the cool waiting room, while plinking spa music underscored the gentle tinkle of water washing over a hanging slate fountain.  The women were sweet and gentle and so kind, looking at you with eyes that said, ‘I understand.’  I floated into the examining room with Bruce at my side, believing in my heart of hearts this surgery was going to be the most amazing transformation of my life.

The doctor himself was a quiet little man with a happy, Marcus Welby type of smile.  He examined my body, looked at my diagnostic films and explained that while I had very little abdominal fat, he could make me a pair of breasts that would swing and sway and move just like real ones.

I was thrilled.  According to his website, this was the biggest hurdle, for the doctor to examine the patient and declare her a candidate for success.  Happy with his pronouncement, I got to the question of how much it would cost.

His nose wrinkled as if I’d belched up black syrup.  I looked to Bruce to see if I’d made some terrible faux pas.  He was looking patiently at the doctor, waiting for him to reply.

“You can work that out with the girls,” the doctor said dismissively.

In that moment, I knew we were cooked, that ‘working with me’ meant pulling out the old credit card and slapping another ten or so thousand dollars on it and then hoping the insurance would send a check that made a significant dent in the balance so we didn’t have to tap even harder on our seriously strained monthly budget.

Frustration poured through me.  Why even bother to use the words work with you when you knew damn well you had no intentions of working with anyone.  It was all just a ploy to get a woman to his office, and woo her with eucalyptus scented air and insincere sentiments of sympathy.  I narrowed my eyes.  I stood my ground.

“You told me when we spoke on the phone that you’d work with me.  That means you’re going to accept whatever my insurance company pays you, right?  That means you’re going to charge me a reasonable and customary rate, so that this is covered, right?”

The examination came to an immediate end.  I was handed over to “the girls”, who had lost their sympathetic sheen and stood like a fortress around the desk where the billing lady sat.   Bruce and I settled into the comfortable office chairs before her, and she presented us with a breakdown of the expenses.

“The doctor understands how important it is for you to get this surgery,” she said slowly so we were sure to understand every word. “He knows you’ll never be happy if you don’t get the reconstruction you want.  That’s why he’s willing to work with you.  This is the rest of your life we’re talking about, and you don’t want to make a big mistake.”

She slid a paper under our noses, outlining the costs.  Our eyes bulged.  $60,000!  Having those living, swinging breasts was going to cost us sixty thousand dollars!

“Are you crazy?” I blurted out to them.  “That’s thirty grand a boob!”

“What does insurance cover?” Bruce asked, taking my hand so I’d calm down.

After a quick review of our coverage, they estimated we’d get back about twelve thousand.

“So it’s only forty-eight,” the billing lady said, smiling brightly.

I could feel my blood beginning to boil.  Reasonable and customary charges were established at $12,000, and this guy found it acceptable to charge five times more?  I said as much to his posse.  They gave me a collective frown.

“You’re putting your finances in front of your health,” his office manager said.

“This has nothing to do with my health,” I retorted. “It’s a cosmetic procedure.”

Clearly having heard that before, she promptly replied, “Your mental health will be harmed forever if you are deformed by your cancer and surgery.  We’ve met many women who regretted their decision not to have this work done – it ruined their lives.”

I looked at Bruce.  He looked at me.  Ruined their lives, was this woman serious?

Without saying another word, we left.  We railed against the greed of these doctors during the two hours it took us to get home.  And then, once again, I logged onto my computer’s search engine and tried to find a way to get my DIEP flap done.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>