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Found 13 results

  1. Perhaps you’ve heard? The federal government is a large insurance business with a standing army. Social Security is insurance — a specific kind of insurance called an annuity. The insured and employer pay premiums every month to fund a defined benefit at a specified year (normally your federally mandated retirement year). Everything is peachy-keen till a disability affects work because one has late stage lung cancer. And, when a lung cancer survivor files for disability, allowed by law and regulation, the federal government almost always disapproves. So, here are some suggestions for obtaining disability benefits by disapproval. 1. Expect to be Disapproved. I know a lot of folks with lung cancer. Among this population, only one was approved on initial application. He passed before he received his first benefit check. My company provided disability insurance carrier filed my first application. I had an unresolved bronchopleural fistula after a pneumonectomy that required a second and third surgery and indications of tumors metastasized to my remaining lung. My claim, filed by a former Social Security claims adjuster, was disapproved. 2. Involve Your Doctors. The disability application requires you to disclose all your physicians and medical providers. Then, the administration asks for medical records, reports and observations. Doctors are busy folks; oncologists are bombarded by SSA requests for information, and for good reason. Late-stage lung cancer (including treatment and side-effects) is often disabling. Inform your medical providers of your application and ask them to help by responding to the request for information. 3. Complete the Application. The Social Security Administration is a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies love to find “nits” in applications and return with some very vague description of the problem. This delays a decision and delays payment, and these are typical insurance company behaviors. Read every word of the disability application process (it is all online at www.ssa.gov) and check your application closely to ensure it is complete and error free. Have several family members check it also after reading the application instructions. Ensure you completely describe your symptoms including those caused by side-effects. Also, completely describe how these symptoms affect your ability to stand, sit, walk, bend over, think, concentrate, and etc. (Hint - read the criteria that will be used to determine your disability finding and use those words as descriptors). 4. Understand the Fine Print. There is payment delay: six full months after the date of disability (date shown on claim approval letter). Depending on other income sources, payments may be taxable. You are not found to be permanently disabled. Regulations allow a review of your status after start of disability payments. It is not a good idea to join an adult softball team while receiving disability payments! You are not eligible for Medicare until 24 months after receipt of first disability payment. Your disability payment will be less than your full retirement benefit, and when you reach retirement age, your retirement benefit will not be increased. 5. Lawyering Up. Filing the initial disability application online is a good idea, as long as it is properly completed and supported by doctor reports and observations. But when denied, it is time to level the playing field and retain a lawyer. Not any lawyer, but a law practice that specializes in Social Security Disability appeals. By law, they cannot charge you for their services. They collect fees directly from the Administration if an administrative law judge approves your appeal. And, most important, they know what they are doing and it is in their financial interest to do a good job on your appeal! The disability process is deliberate, lengthy and frustrating. Like lung cancer, success involves persistence. Insurance companies don’t relish paying claims and every approved disability claim turns a premium into a disbursement. But, Social Security is insurance with disability payment provisions that you pay for! If you can’t work, apply, appeal and persist! Stay the course.
  2. I've seen the star of Bethlehem, very early on Christmas morning. While peacekeeping in Egypt's Sinai Desert, I would run before daybreak as soldiers are prone to do. Although the desert is quite cold in December, dawn running was a habit hard to break. I ran the camp perimeter to check the defensive positions and greet soldiers enjoying the banter in three different languages. Starting in the south perimeter and running counterclockwise, the predawn western sky was dark except for the stars that were so clear, they were painted on the black night sky. Passing along the northern perimeter, the sky lightened and my expectation was the sun starting its rise. But, no, not that day. Right on the distant horizon was a cosmic anomaly, a false dawn, but a bright shining nevertheless. I was looking at the star in the east seen by the Three Wise Men as they rode in search of Jesus. I would later learn, it was not a star but a rare conjunction of the planets -- Jupiter, Saturn and Mars -- all rising in the east slightly before being washed out by the rising sun. I am awestruck by that memory. Many years later after surviving a years worth of cancer surgery and while waiting the results of my first post-surgical diagnostic scan, my entire family gathered to celebrate Christmas. Mom, dad, four brothers, daughter, and a posse of nieces who overwhelmed my one nephew comprised the gathering. Despite my manifest uncertainty, we had a joyous time. I can count on a single hand the times my family gathered. With two Galli soldiers, someone was always missing on deployment. But Christmas in 2004 was an assembly formation, and the clan was all present and accounted for. We celebrated Christmas and my life. I am awestruck by that memory. Then started the clammer of lung cancer treatment. In my treatment years after the Christmas 2004 assembly, my life hovered in sadness and despair. I allowed myself to become overwhelmed by uncertainty, indeed I could think of little else. I forget there are only two things certain in the human experience: birth and death. Everything else is uncertain; outcomes are unpredictable. Treatment was working for I was granted extra life. There were many opportunities for joy but they were frittered away. I am awestruck by those memories. In common with all lung cancer survivors, having been born, I have only one certain human experience yet to deal with -- death. Its timing is uncertain with or without lung cancer. In my memories of active treatment, I chose to let life pass me by forever losing opportunities for joy. Today we celebrate a birth, a new beginning. It was announced by a star. I've seen the star. Let the joy of this birth be a new beginning for all lung cancer survivors. Let us live and find joy in the life we have and be awestruck by the memories of life well lived. Stay the course.
  3. We are "locked and loaded" for our fifth Transatlantic cruise since I was diagnosed with lung cancer. This Sunday, we depart from Ft. Lauderdale and fifteen leisurely pamper-filled days later, arrive in Southampton, England. Along the voyage, we'll visit Bermuda (a first), the Azores (an other first), Lisbon (been there), Bilbao, Spain (a first), and Le Harve, France (been there). And best of all -- no jet lag! We are serious cruisers and are thrilled to cross the pond in a brand new ship (Celebrity Edge christened in Dec 2018). Once we arrive in Southampton, we'll pick up a rent-a-car and proceed to get lost driving on the wrong side of the road as we explore England's picturesque Cotswalds region. We really do love getting lost in countries where we can almost understand the language! Then, after a week of land touring, we fly back home to usher in our summer. Vacations are important for everyone; they are vital for lung cancer survivors. I find I need about 7 days of state change that removes me from day-to-day life and stress. On the eight day, I float in a mental sea of serenity and on this trip, I do hope for calm seas throughout our voyage. Stay the course...we will! Tom
  4. I'm the guy who paints a toenail for every year I live beyond my February 4, 2004 diagnosis day. This year our toes are LUNGevity Blue to honor the foundation that is dedicated to changing outcomes for people with lung cancer through research, education and support. There are many people who've been instrumental in my survival and making a life after; none are more important than my loving wife -- Martha Galli. If I can live, so can you! Stay the course. Tom Galli
  5. This is my fourteenth anniversary surviving a lung cancer diagnosis. Granddaughter Charlett's decorated toes join mine to keep our right feet forward! I paint my toes every year as a celebration of the joy life brings. In early treatment, there was no joy. There was fear, frustration, pain, uncertainty and scanziety. I'd not yet discovered Dr. Phillip Bearman who taught me the reason for lung cancer treatment -- achieving extended life. Phil decided he would live every moment to the fullest despite the rigors of treatment, and he'd celebrate every year of survival with a painted red toenail. He couldn't control his lung cancer, but he could control the way he felt about his lung cancer. I started living when I internalized his message. My first paint job was at my third anniversary and I'll never miss another. I am a lung cancer survivor. My message for those in treatment is twofold: enjoy the life extension treatment provides and if I can live, so can you. Stay the course.
  6. Summer has ended and baseball is in World Series mode. I’m a long suffering Philadelphia Phillies fan — a Phanatic! To have a lifelong fascination with a mediocre baseball club requires supreme dedication, unusual perseverance, and a strong conviction that tomorrow will be a far better day. These attributes are prerequisites for facing a daunting lung cancer diagnosis and enduring the arduousness of treatment. Danny Ozark, once manager of the Phillies, took the team from perennial cellar dwellers to contenders. He explained his formula for success thusly: “Half this game is ninety percent mental!” Dismissing the missing half, the same can be said of life after lung cancer treatment. Presume diagnostic and treatment routines of lung cancer are largely similar; the unique and difficult challenges occur post treatment. Adding Ozark’s missing half, coping with post treatment life challenge "is ninety percent mental.” Individually, each will face a distinct challenge set but universally, life will be different than life before treatment. How so? First was a misplaced expectation to return to pre-diagnostic life. After NED, there were so many things I could no longer do. It took a while to realize I needed to carve out a new lifestyle. There is a new normal life after lung cancer, but the mental challenge is finding it. No one gives you new normal; you have to make it. Several side effects became chronic conditions. Coping becomes a mental challenge. Everyday, I play a round of mind over matter. Most days my mind wins but I have to live with losing days. Too many in a row and I need help. Fortunately, my wife is a godsend. Plan to have someone trusted close by. I’ve learned to go well out of my way to avoid confrontation. There are no “civil” discussion these days. There is disagreement, branding, insult and anger. My spin cycle goes one step farther to pain. If I walk away, I may have a good day. I won’t if I don’t. I’ve learned to control how I feel about something and not caring enough to have an opinion works well indeed. My new normal life is both challenging and enjoyable. Achieving that state involves application of Danny Ozark’s recipe for baseball success — new normal life “is ninety percent mental.” Stay the course.
  7. Today, on our Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful that all in this photo, taken in November 2015, still survive. Stay the course.
  8. Today we celebrate 13 years of surviving NSCLC. I'm borrowing three toes from Martha, my wife and caregiver extraordinaire, who deserves most of the credit for my continued life. Martha did the heavy lifting during treatment, asking the right questions at the right time, and prodding my medical team with just the right touch. By comparison, I was at wit's end during my nearly 4 years of continuous treatment. Doctors McK (GP), H (Oncologist) and C (Thoracic Surgeon) also deserve a lion's share of credit. Collectively, they share a trait that distinguishes them from the rest of medical community -- they treat people, not patients. The red toenail painting tradition was started by a Dr. Phillip Berman, radiologist and never smoker, who was diagnosed with Stage IV NSCLC. In an early Internet cancer website he founded, RedToeNail.org, he vowed to paint a toenail red for each year he survived what he called "this nastiness." He painted 5 before passing but taught me a great deal about living with lung cancer. During treatment, he was playing with his children, exercising, interacting with friends, and finding something to enjoy every day. In other words, he embraced the life he had and lived every day reveling in the joy he discovered. His lesson -- those who choose treatment choose life and the important thing is to do something with the life you have. I pass his powerfully evocative message to you. If you suffer with lung cancer then resolve to live every day and find something to enjoy. Realize that if I can live, so can you. Paint your toenails red! Stay the course. Tom
  9. I am writing this from the pool deck of a cruise ship while on a transatlantic sojourn. Our fourth transatlantic and our favorite form of vacation, we cross then pick several countries and explore. This year, after docking at Barcelona, we fly to Ireland and tour the wild and unpopulated western coast, then spend a long weekend in Edinburgh, and fly home. The cruise and the touring after is wonderful. The flight back is a nightmare because my incision scars throb in pain in a pressurized aircraft. We need to make the return flight in two legs (overnighting in Boston) to recover from the pain. The national hope summit concluded, and missed for the second time because of our annual spring migrations, I tell you about our cruise as two examples of hope. First, we undergo treatment and endure discomfort for a reason -- extended life. It is important to shelve the treatment and uncertainty mantle to do something enjoyable with this life extension. We enjoy these long (and reasonably priced) repositioning journeys on a cruise ship. We step out of the mundane and into the lap of luxury and enjoy interactions with the international assortment of passengers we sail with. Second, to the essence of hope, if I can survive to do this, so can you. I will never go back to my lifestyle before lung cancer. But, I can have an enjoyable and meaningful life after lung cancer. And, my attitude dictates the amount of joy and meaning experienced. It is so important to realize this point. We endure treatments for a reason. Find your reason. Revel in your new normal. Life indeed is what you make it. Make yours. Stay the course. Tom
  10. Today, in the United States, we celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. Our first president, George Washington, called for an official “day of public thanksgiving and prayer” in 1789 and although the Congress heartily agreed, the proclamation was lost in the bureaucratic press of politics. It fell to Abraham Lincoln to rekindle the Thanksgiving Holiday shortly after the pivotal battle of our Civil War—Gettysburg in 1863. Thus in the mist of warfare and uncertainty, a holiday dedicated to thankfulness was founded. Today, we gather to celebrate life and thank the Almighty for health and bounty. Thankfulness for me, a lung cancer survivor, is particularly significant for I have been blessed to witness one of life’s most memorable events: birth of a first grandchild. During my recent visit, while cradling her in my arms, I felt a connection with my infant-offspring. As the picture captures, Charlett Emilyrose was looking intently into my eyes, unusual for a three-week old baby. She held my gaze for the longest time as if painting a mental portrait. Her grandfather was joyous and delighted and thankful. This touching moment is unfortunately rare for those with lung cancer. By statistical expression, Thanksgiving 2005 should have been my last celebration. Yet, nearing my 13th year of surviving a lung cancer diagnosis, I am so thankful to have witnessed the birth of a grandchild. Providence has indeed showered me with gifts. So today I give thanks for survival and in the spirit of George Washington’s original scope of holiday, I pray all who suffer the effects of this horrid disease experience the joy and delight I felt as I held my granddaughter in my arms. Happy Thanksgiving all. Stay the course.
  11. Start with any whole positive number. If it is even, divide it by 2; if odd, multiply by 3 and add 1. After a string of calculations applying the even-odd method, regardless of the starting number, the answer will always be 1. Well maybe because all numbers have not yet been checked. But up to 10 raised to the fourteenth power have been. And that is a very big number! This mathematical oddity is called the Collatz Conjecture. For example, here is the calculation string applying the even-odd formula starting with 5: 16, 8, 4, 2, 1. (This is a great challenge for children BTW, especially if you require mental calculation.) Try a number. Don't try 33 or you will be up all night calculating till you reach 1, but you'll get there. Why is it called a conjecture? The word is defined as a hypothesis that has been formed by speculating, usually with little hard evidence. I'm sure Collatz tried thousands of calculations before publishing his conjecture unlike the lady who questioned me about the origins of my lung cancer. People are inquisitive. When I slip off my tee-shirt to enter the pool, people can't help but notice my "battle-scarred" chest. I've a distinctive banana-shaped scar along my back and missing ribs and a noticeable lack of a right pectoral muscle in addition to many suture scars front and back. I could easily claim a battle wound but tell the truth. When I did, my inquisitor said: "smoker right?" This is the Lung Cancer Conjecture -- pure speculation. In my case, it is likely true but think of the never smoker encountering the same conjecture, then suffering the disdainful scorn of disapproval normally reserved for a badly misbehaving child. It is of little value to take these people on. They have small minds that are already made up. It is however required we attack the attitude of deserving to die because we contracted a disease that settled opinion holds as self-inflicted. HIV/AIDS is largely self-induced and the ill are treated as heroes, reaping a bonus-budget of 10-percent of all NIH research dollars. This malicious Lung Cancer Conjecture must be contested if we hope to increase research funding from minuscule to meaningful. The number 1 is the likely answer to Collatz's Conjecture. One also signifies a single entity, a whole person, a human being who contracted lung cancer. Does the reason really matter? Stay the course.
  12. In the days before computers, college registration involved waiting in long lines. Freshmen were last to register and my hope was an elective in social science, fine arts or music. But when I reached the registration table, I was assigned the only open class, Theology 101—The History of Religion. I was less than excited. And, worse yet, it was a Monday-Wednesday-Friday 8:00 a.m. class. The professor was a Marianist brother, with PhDs in Ancient Languages and Cultural Anthropology, and five minutes into my first class, I realized he was a captivating lecturer. Possessing a gift for making the mundane interesting, he introduced each lecture with a compelling story. I was so fascinated by the depth and breath of the professor’s knowledge, I studied with him every semester earning me an unplanned a minor in Theology. I am not a theologian nor am I intensely religious. But Theology taught me a great deal about faith, hope and life. Lung cancer interrupted my collegiate learning. Faith is more than a religious virtue; it is a distinctive human trait. Hope comes from faith. Thomas Aquinas, the noted 13th century Christian philosopher, explained the relationship with these words: “faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand.” Faith and hope are essential virtues for lung cancer survivors. We don’t see evidence of treatment at work, yet faith causes our belief they are, and we are ever hopeful of achieving extended life. Hope then is our bastion against things we cannot control like life threatening lung cancer. Life has a beginning and an end. Both are uncertain and often beyond influence. In between comes living, and we have some control over the nature and quality of life. While in active treatment, I forgot my ability for self-determination resulting in 3 years of wasted life. Almost everyday, someone comes to this forum expressing fear, uncertainty, and despondency. I well understand why, but I also know that a lung cancer is not the end of life; it is part of life. In that vein, I recall a quotation by Saint Rose of Viterbo framed in my professor’s classroom. “Live so as not to fear death. For those who live well in the world, death is not frightening…” Have faith, hope and live well. Stay the course.
  13. The lights dim, the announcer’s introduction complete, now all the stand-up comedian needs to do is be funny. We’ve all seen one bomb. Even the best have a bad night. Overcoming fear must be a prerequisite for a comedian. Comedian and author Jerry Gillies developed an excellent approach for handling fear: “Confront your fears, list them, get to know them, and only then will you be able to put them aside and move ahead.” This is very relevant advice for a lung cancer survivor. I practiced a broader form of writing down fears by producing a journal of treatment experiences. I still re-read that journal to keep connected to my treatment. While I read the entire entry, I concentrate on what I was afraid of. So in a broader sense, I practiced Jerry Gillies' sage advice and benefited from it. The power of writing down fearful things is important because my fear quickly morphed into a monster by spawning a multitude activities that I may or may not have been frightened by. For example, chemotherapy infusions were frightful events — at least that is the way my journals in early treatment read. But was the entire infusion process frightening? What I was afraid of was installing the IV, not the stick, but the wiggle to find the right place to situate the device. An irrational fear because wiggling generates a mild discomfort but in my mind, wiggling is enduring torture. I have this mental picture of being strapped to a chair for interrogation while nurse-after-nurse “sticks and wiggles” on every extremity. Just last week during a blood draw, the head phlebotomist had to pin me to the chair because I was “going down” during the procedure. A quick application of smelling salts saved the day! Following Gillies’ advice, I would write down “wiggle” on my list of fears. Getting to know my fear of wiggling produced some ways to put it aside and move ahead. My first way was Xanax. One mg of Xanax about 30 minutes before a procedure and IV installs are a piece of cake. Another way is to tell the nurse ahead of the procedure that I have a phobia and not to wiggle; pull it out and try another vein. Another journal reveal is fear of pain caused by lung cancer progression. Reading disclosed metastasizing tumors invading my spinal chord causing excruciating pain. My oncologist dismissed this by explaining palliative radiation and hospice care. Thus, I was able to put this fear aside and continue on. A lung cancer diagnosis is the most frightening event in my life, treatment is a close second, and recurrence follows. Lung cancer trumps everything else I deal with. But, I learned to face this fear. Writing about fear helps me understand it and deal with it. Jerry Gillies’ approach works. Stay the course.
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