15 years after beating cancer, Masami had found herself battling a familiar enemy. Though she fought it off before, this time would be much different as she would not have the luxury of time on her side.
Masami’s mother was living in Japan and she was determined to do her duty as daughter, providing her with much needed caregiving. When the cancer came back, she had a difficult choice to make: stay in the U.S. and begin chemotherapy, which would prevent her from traveling, or go back and forth between US and Japan to care for her mother. She chose the latter, and did natural remedies knowing that the cancer may spread.
“She chose what was most important to her,” recalls her husband Hiro.
A couple of years later after diagnosis, Masami went to the gastroenterologist because of a large bowel obstruction due to cancer. The doctor told her she needed immediate care, so the couple went straight to the emergency hospital. They began various testing around 8:00 p.m., but it wasn’t until 5:00 a.m. the next morning that they were finally able to see a doctor. All they had was a towel to keep each other warm throughout the night.
“When you’re sleep deprived, in a state of panic with everything moving so quickly, and on top of that you have the language barrier, who would be able to make the correct decision?”
They found out Masami needed surgery immediately.
Hiro remembers that time, “I speak English, but medical terms were so hard and I just couldn’t understand what was going on.” The medical team asked him to make decisions quickly, but with poor knowledge of medical concepts and constant worry, he struggled through the process.
They used the hospital’s translation services for their first conversation with the doctor, but ran into difficulties. “The translator is on the phone to help, but even then it’s so fast that I had to record this conversation to listen to again later. Although I fully appreciated the service, it took so long passing the phone back and forth, and I felt sorry for taking so much time from the doctor. It was inefficient considering how quickly the decisions needed to be made.”
When he had to decide whether to move forward with certain surgical procedures or not, he was didn’t know what to do. So many questions went through his head: What side effects could happen? Would there be any drawbacks after? How common and successful was this type of surgery? In the midst of all this chaos and stress, Masami and Hiro were introduced to Dr. Yuichi Yanami and Iyashi Care.
Hiro says the first encounter with Dr. Yanami was such a relief. “We were so lucky to have him. He explained all the information we needed, in Japanese, to be able to make our decision confidently.”
After surgery and returning back home to start chemotherapy, they continued to receive support from the Iyashi Care team in numerous ways. Hiro says, “My wife loved the team too. She got along with the social worker right away and appreciated Dr. Yanami. Their amiable personalities were great.”
Dr. Yanami would visit their home once or twice a month, and kept close communication via phone calls. Hiro and Masami were able to get clarification on their regular visits to the oncologist. Of all the doctors they met, Dr. Yanami was the only one with whom they had such close communication and he was even able to provide medication to ease Masami’s pain during her treatment. “I even called him once because I didn’t know which medical bill was what,” recalls Hiro, who often juggled 5-10 medical bills from various doctors and hospitals.
“The best thing was that I got all the important information in a timely manner from a specialist, in Japanese. Having the right knowledge is so important,” says Hiro. Masami was interested in knowing more about the End of Life Option Act, so the social worker sat down with her and explained her options and the requirements. Additionally the Iyashi Care team was able to help Masami and Hiro understand the benefits of filling out an advance directive form. Masami was able to express her treatment preferences in the event that she could no longer make a decision. “I didn’t know that form existed, and I actually still have that copy on our fridge” says Hiro. The Iyashi Care social worker also referred them to an estate planning attorney, as well as provided them in-home care options for caregiving needs since Hiro was working while all this happened.
Iyashi Care not only helped Masami but Hiro as well. “I had stress-related stomach problems and was on medication during this time. It was so nice to have a team of experts that I could rely on. It helped ease my anxiety and burden, improving my own physical and mental wellbeing.”
He says he is so grateful for the program. “A big thank you. If we didn’t have them, we would have been lost in the healthcare system. Looking at all the help we received, the team truly is a group of ‘care specialists’ – they know how to support us medically and more importantly, emotionally.”