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It Came as a Shock

Health care success stories told by the people who lived them


It Came as a Shock

Joni Coen

This can't be happening to me.

That's what Joni Coen kept thinking the day doctors told her that she had breast cancer. It was hard for her to believe. An avid exerciser, she thought she was in excellent health. And, as far as she knew, she had no family history of breast cancer.

Joni even questioned the accuracy of her biopsy. "Don't you think they inadvertently mixed up my slides with somebody else's?" she recalls asking her doctor, half hoping, half pleading.

But, it wasn't a mix-up. It was the beginning of a long, often challenging journey through breast cancer. And, it opened her eyes to the importance of taking time for regular checkups and screenings.

From denial to a brave fight

It was November 2008 when Joni, then age 49, found a lump in her breast. As a nurse, she knew it should be checked out. Yet, she avoided calling her doctor.

It had been a while since Joni's last mammogram. And, with responsibilities at work and home and an overflowing schedule, a checkup kept getting pushed to the backburner.

Even when she finally went for a mammogram and a biopsy was recommended, Joni hesitated. She said she was too busy. "No, I have an appointment at 1 o'clock on the other side of town," she told the radiologist. "I can't miss it."

"I was trying to deny the whole thing," Joni says of her response. "I was in denial for a long time."

Fortunately, she didn't stay there. She made time for the biopsy and shortly after began treatment. First came a mastectomy and then reconstructive surgery. Chemotherapy followed – and, finally, radiation.

Joni kept up her work schedule throughout her chemo and radiation treatments. And, she coped with the common side effects – including nausea, weight loss and hair loss – as best as she could.

On her side

Thankfully, Joni wasn't alone during these trying days. Friends brought meals. Her husband did the cleaning. And, her 16-year-old son pitched in, too. "He had a fast and furious orientation to laundry," she says.

Through all of it, there was another resource Joni relied on: UnitedHealthcare. When calling for information about network providers and her coverage, the customer service representatives she spoke with were always courteous, she says. They were also quick to direct her to appropriate resources, such as®. There, Joni was able to easily find information about her various providers.

Perhaps best of all, UnitedHealthcare paid her claims in a timely manner. "I think it would've been extremely stressful if there were an issue with that – but there wasn't," says Joni. "Everything went through quickly. It was all taken care of."

A message to share

Today, Joni is cancer-free. She does take medicine to prevent its return. Still, she considers cancer behind her. She says the disease taught her a valuable lesson – one she believes other busy women should learn, as well.

"I was taking care of everybody else, but not taking very good care of myself," she says. She knows now how important it is to have annual exams and mammograms. "You need to take care of your family, yes. But you need to take care of yourself, too."

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