Medical tourism: Post-cancer checkup in Chiang Mai

We came back to Thailand after Vietnam because we ran out of time the first time around and never got to the northern part of the country. Also, I needed a place with a great English-speaking medical oncologist for my biannual checkup. I found her in Chiang Mai.

The good news is: I have the ‘all-clear’ from the doc, who has connections to the Mayo Clinic back in the U.S. There is no bad news, other than I’m still having major trouble with some of the side effects of tamoxifen. But that’s another story.

For now, I’ll keep taking the dang tamoxifen and handling the hot flashes and anxiety with antidepressants. (Mental health post here.)

How I found this medical oncologist

Despite all of the evils of Facebook, it does have redeeming qualities, such as connecting people with similar interests, hobbies, even challenges. As I always do, I joined a local Facebook group for help. The group is filled with locals and expats who live long-term in Chiang Mai, and they know where to go.

Through that Facebook group, I had a few doctor recommendations – but I also came across something new. In my nearly four years of traveling I have never seen this: a website of resources for cancer surviving expats living in Chiang Mai. Someone in that Facebook group pointed it out to me. Wow!

I used the site’s contact page to send a message. I got a reply within a day. They recommended I see Dr. Rattiya Cheewakriangkrai at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital. “We have personal experience of Dr. Rattiya (her nickname) and recommend her clinical skills and she speaks excellent English having worked at the Mayo Clinic in USA,” the email stated. Wow!

Chiang Mai is a mecca for expats looking to live an affordable, easy-going lifestyle in a warm climate, in a city with some culture. And so it’s logical that such a group might exist here. I wish these types of groups existed everywhere.

The group is Cancer Connect Chiang Mai, and its website is here.

It was easy to make an appointment – I simply emailed the hospital, and an English-speaking customer service representative emailed me right back.

I found the group to be correct in their assessment of Dr. Rattiya. She was incredibly thorough and patient with me. I sent her my records ahead of my appointment, and our time together was productive. She answered every question I had (and I always have a ton). I definitely recommend her for any current or former cancer patient.

I recommend the hospital, too. There are hostesses in purple dresses and old-school nursing hats who speak English to help the foreign visitor.

If there was any ping against the hospital, it’s that I sent my records to them via email, and they missed that email, and I had to resend it. Also, there was a bit of confusion at the front desk about why I needed a prescription for antidepressants. In Thailand, you can buy them over the counter, and I had to reiterate: I’m a world traveler and go to countries where the laws are different.

I’m happy to report – nothing at all was lost in translation with Dr. Rattiya. Just be aware as a medical tourist, not everything will always go 100 percent smoothly.

Chiang Mai Ram Hospital’s website is here.

What it cost

Dr. Rattiya’s consultation fee was about $20. I’m not even kidding. This is the going rate for a private hospital in Chiang Mai. Bangkok Hospital is a bit more expensive, and of course emergency room visits will always cost more. But a plain old doctor’s office charge: just $20.

My blood test was another story. It included everything from my clotting factors to blood sugar, mineral to cholesterol levels. Everything came back as good as can be, now that I’ve been on tamoxifen nearly a year. But it cost $242. Ouch!

I ended up buying tamoxifen through the hospital, because I wanted to be sure the supply side was legit. I’d hate to be taking a knock-off that wasn’t the real deal. Tamoxifen is on the World’ Health Organization’s list of necessary drugs for a civilized country. That doesn’t always mean they’re easy to find or cheap. I spent $168 for a six-month supply.

The antidepressants I take are escitalopram, the generic for Lexapro. (I am limited on options because drugs like Paxil and Prozac interfere with the effectiveness of tamoxifen.) The cheapest I found Lexapro was about $45 a box. Instead, I have went with a generic brand from a reputable pharmacy near the main market for about $26 per box. (Locals go to that pharmacy, and while it’s not a guarantee like a hospital, it made me feel better. Always, always go with the locals.)

How do those prices compare to America? Other readers would know more than me – since I haven’t bought these drugs there, nor have I seen a medical oncologist in the office. Besides – what price can you put on being able to continue world travel as a breast cancer survivor???

My next biannual checkup will be in January 2020, probably from Cebu, Philippines. I’ll start looking for a doctor before I get there, of course, as always…

For more information on my post-breast cancer adventure with medical tourism, here are some links, breast cancer related and also general health related:

How I found a surgeon for a double mastectomy in a foreign country

How we found a travel clinic for vaccinations in Malaysia

The best dentist in Mazatlan

The best eye doctor in Puerto Vallarta

New eyeglasses and prescription sunglasses in Barcelona

And for the love of God, ladies:

Get checked annually with 3D mammograms, if at all possible – no matter what country you’re in!

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2 Comments

  1. So happy your check up & blood work were excellent! As far as prices for Dr. visits & medication… they are so far out of reach for anyone without medical insurance here in the U.S. so very sad for the thousands who have to struggle 🙁

    Liked by 1 person

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