I am writing to express my deepest gratitude and appreciation to Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society and to the RCCS patient administrator, who actually saved my life.
I had taken an unpaid leave of absence from my job with NYPD in early May because of severe pain and swelling in my chest. After bilateral mastectomies in 2003, the reconstruction surgery was being rejected by my body. I could not find a doctor willing to operate on me, to try a different and more complicated kind of reconstruction, because my GHI insurance didn’t pay enough. I was told by several doctors that if an operation would cost, say $20,000, GHI would only pay the surgeon $1,000. I was told that as terrible as several doctors felt turning me away, if I, personally, could not come up with at least $13,000 to supplement the GHI payment, there was nothing anyone could do.
Night after night I called hotline after hotline, trying to find help. I was living on pain pills given to me by one doctor who saw how bad my skin was and had compassion on me. When the pain pills ran out, I started drinking Vodka and water in order to knock myself out and get some sleep at night. I felt like I would eventually explode. As a middle-aged, divorced, single mother with no extended family and no resources to get through this, I began to feel like it would have been better if I died. As days turned into months and my condition and pain worsened, I was actually considering suicide as a way out — because I could find no other.
I decided to call one more hotline before giving up. This hotline gave me a list of places to call, most of which I had already called, but there was a new name on this list: Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society. I called RCCS the next morning and a very kind lady answered. From that day on, everything started to turn around. She arranged an appointment with a doctor at a major cancer hospital. When that didn’t work out, she insisted that I hold on a little longer — just a few more days — until she found another place for me to get help.
During this waiting period, she gave me her home phone and cell phone numbers and made herself available to speak to me outside of normal business hours, not to mention before and after Shabbos. Despite her responsibilities to her own children and her husband and home, she always made time for me. There were nights when we spoke for hours. Finally, she found me a doctor who agreed to see me and operate, if deemed feasible, despite the fact that this doctor was not in the GHI network.
On the first visit to his office at Mount Sinai Hospital, Dr. Jess Ting suggested a difficult microsurgery, to be performed in tandem with his partner, Dr. Chung and an entire team. He promised me if the surgery failed, the team would attempt a different microsurgery. He promised not to send me home until he had restored me to myself, so I could hold my head up with confidence, despite the previous destruction of my body — in order to save me from cancer. I never met a doctor like this in my entire life. “I just want to help you,” he said, simply. I later found out that Dr. Jess Ting was voted the top doctor in New York City by New York Magazine.
The lady from RCCS got busy arranging the surgery, everything from how I would get there, to the quality of kosher food I would eat during what turned out to be ten days in the intensive care unit after two ten hour surgeries. On July 3, the day of the first operation, she insisted on accompanying me to the hospital — like a sister. Indeed, she held my hand all the way up to the operating room and if they had let her, she would have entered there, as well. “We are Jews,” she told me, “and we are one family.” I told her despite being Jewish, I had no experience with a family like this.
Day after day, tied to a bed in the intensive care unit with an oxygen mask on my face and sometimes deranged by pain, other times by drugs to alleviate the pain, I watched women in long skirts with kerchiefs on their heads floating in and out of my room, carrying thermoses of steaming homemade chicken soup and other Jewish delicacies that I have not eaten since I was a little girl, when I visited my grandmother on a holiday. I thought I must be dreaming, but I wasn’t. The women with the soup were sent by RCCS, as were others who came to chat and cheer me up, once I was feeling better. My teenage daughters, Rochel and Devorah, were able to stay at special housing across the street from the hospital (at no cost) in order to spend Shabbos with me — this, too, arranged by RCCS.
When I came home, the RCCS lady arranged for a local Sea Gate Bikur Cholim to bring me a hot homemade meal every evening. She also arranged for a total stranger (whom she and I had never met) to donate money to alleviate what was quickly becoming severe financial distress. She contacted other organizations to help me pay for transportation to the doctor, co-payments for doctors and medicine, as well as finding organizations to pay utility bills — for example, the phone, which was about to be shut off.
I am on the eve of another surgery tonight, my third this month, at Mount Sinai, presided over by Dr. Jess Ting. I have to leave for the hospital at five o’clock tomorrow morning. This kind women again went into action, making sure I had a ride, making sure I would have kosher food, making sure I would have hope.
I did not want to put off writing this letter for some later date because I want you to know, no matter how it goes for me tomorrow, that this woman, is an angel and if not for her, I would be dead by now. I have three children, This employee of RCCS saved a whole world. G-d bless her — and Rofeh Cholim Cancer Society — for eternity.