Today, Feb 4th, is World Cancer Day. According to the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation, “In America alone, more than 1.6 million people heard for the first time those dreaded words ‘you have cancer’ since last year.”
The web site for World Cancer Day explains that the focus of the day is to dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer. It is necessary to raise awareness of many aspects of the disease. It helps to increase empathy for the people who battle cancer, and creates understanding that survivors seek for what they've been through.
Cancer is a battle that everyone must fight together, because it affects all of us in one way or another.
A lot of money is raised for the purpose of curing cancer. Events are held constantly to raise funds, and most of the money goes toward research to cure the disease. That is important. There have been great advances made toward saving lives. Many people who get cancer get well now, who might not have survived before. There are people who are long-term survivors who help one another and newly diagnosed patients, as great sources for information in a new territory, a land where one might live a long time with many “late term effects.” These can include secondary cancers and all kinds of other complications that arise as a result of enduring chemo and radiation.
Nowadays, people can get cancer, get treatment, get better, and go on to live their lives. People living with cancer can get medical help and learn to manage their symptoms and live longer, making the best of it. Of course, cancer patients want to survive, and are so grateful that they do.
Still, cancer is very, very expensive to go through in America. On World Cancer Day, it's time to stand up for the people who have paid the high price of battling cancer. Paying the cost for treatment, and paying the cost of living while trying to survive the treatment, can wipe out a person’s savings, cost them their job, their health insurance, their home. As we raise so much money to fight the disease, how can our nation do more to help the people who are trying to live with cancer, or trying to recover from it? So much is desperately needed, and so little is available for them. Our nation could do more, and should do more.
I am one of those people. My story isn't unique at all. It's common. I've just become a statistic. One more person wiped out financially by cancer.
Because of the cost of cancer treatment, I declared bankruptcy a year ago. I lost my home to foreclosure this past summer. My daughter and I had to move out of a nice, big house that was paid for in full. I borrowed against it to pay for cancer treatment, and for the cost of living while I was too sick to work. I couldn’t catch up with the mortgage payments again. We are now living in a tiny apartment, helped by the generosity of a kind soul who is letting us stay here, only charging us the utilities. Without this help, my daughter and I would be homeless. I'm NED now, which means "No Evidence of Disease", and I'm working all the time. I have no health insurance. I am still struggling to get back on my feet financially, even though I finished cancer treatment five years ago.
Since I've just passed that magical five-year survival mark this year, I have less to worry about in terms of fear of recurrence. Because of the cost of cancer, though, I still face a daily fight for financial survival.
As I began to recover physically, I started working for cancer advocacy, including participating in Relay for Life events for the American Cancer Society. I also created a page on Facebook to share information I found through research and organized, CANCER - FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE, RESOURCES, SCHOLARSHIPS, INFO.
I have learned that there is a huge need for financial assistance when facing such a difficult, long term illness. It can take years to truly recover from cancer after the treatment period is complete. As hard as it is to recover physically, the additional stress from the financial struggle to survive can just be overwhelming.
I think some kind of financial information brochure or booklet is needed, to be given to every patient upon diagnosis. It should contain information and a link to a web site with a national or global network that lists all the groups and foundations that can offer financial help and planning. A web site with these resources listed could be updated continually as new resources are created. It should primarily be focused on links for financial help.
Reprinted here with permission from the American Cancer Society, the following article from the organization's Triumph Magazine, Spring 2010, is just as relevant today as the day it was written. It is the story of a man who lost his wife to cancer, and his savings. He has become an advocate for the American Cancer Society.
Health care reform gets personal by Ginny Gaylor
After his tragic loss and struggle with insurance, one volunteer finds a way to fight back.
How much is your life worth in dollars and cents? That is the question that Dan Brodrick asked a participant—who was opposing health care reform—at a town hall meeting last summer. After losing his wife, Sharon, in April 2008 to cancer of the small intestine, Dan has become a passionate advocate for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) and the current health care reform bill in Congress. His hope is that no one else will have to endure what he and Sharon did.
“It astounds me that you have to give your whole life’s savings, everything you have worked for, plus your house and car to save a life,” he says. “But I would give it all again if it would bring her back.”
Eleven years ago, Dan, of Gainesboro, Tennessee, was employed as a truck driver. After being injured on the job and disabled, he lost his employer-provided insurance and wasn’t able to afford COBRA payments for himself and Sharon. Eventually, Dan received his own coverage under Medicare, but that didn’t help his wife. Due to a pre-existing condition, she wasn’t able to get insurance coverage on her own. When Sharon received her stage IV cancer diagnosis in 2007, the disease was too advanced, and—without insurance coverage—she was left with few treatment options.
In hindsight, Dan believes a simple test could have detected Sharon’s cancer earlier. Her symptoms were similar to irritable bowel syndrome, and Dan recalls a relative whose own cancer of the small intestine was discovered using an endoscopic test, a test Sharon’s doctors never requested. Dan fervently believes that Sharon’s lack of insurance was a factor in that decision. While he may never know for sure, Dan does know the bills for Sharon’s surgery and related cancer care rose to more than $80,000, wiping out their savings and leaving him wondering how to pay down the remaining debt.
“All I want is a level playing field,” says Dan. “I want people to know that what happened to me can happen to anyone at any second. Everyone thinks, ‘Oh that can’t happen to me,’ then guess what—it happens.”
In his quest to care for Sharon, Dan had called the American Cancer Society and received guidance on all available insurance options. However, Sharon was continually denied coverage. This compelled Dan to call the Society back and offer his help. “I said, ‘If you ever need anyone to go before Congress and speak about insurance, please give me a call.’”
Last year, ACS CAN did call and asked Dan to go to Washington, D.C., where he met with legislators about health care reform and shared his story. “I said I would be there if I had to crawl,” he remembers.
Dan was among hundreds of ACS CAN volunteers who traveled to the halls of Congress in 2009 to carry their message of “Action: Now Not Later” and make their case for health care reform. ACS CAN volunteers like Dan have also directed more than 100,000 calls and emails to Congress since June 2009 in support of improving the quality and availability of health care for all Americans. Says Dan of his volunteer experience, “I was so thrilled to go to Washington and speak on behalf of ACS CAN and share my story for Sharon.”
The Brodricks’ story was also featured in ACS CAN’s first solo national television ad campaign and in subsequent print ads to help show how a lack of access to care can affect patients and families.
As the Society’s nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate, ACS CAN has spent the last year urging Congress to take action to fix the current health care system. By early 2009, the push for reform was the strongest it had been in a decade, and ACS CAN has been there to help shape the debate and ensure that the voices of cancer patients, survivors and caregivers are heard.
Comprehensive and meaningful health care reform is just one part of the Society’s and ACS CAN’s broader goal of expanding access to quality care. Currently, there are more than 46 million people in America without insurance and another 25 million with inadequate insurance coverage. During the current economic crisis, those numbers are expected to rise. Even those who are insured may soon have difficulty keeping their coverage as the insurance costs paid by both individuals and employers increase.
As the merits of health care reform have been discussed nationwide, ACS CAN has worked to remind lawmakers that any new legislation should address how to improve cancer prevention, early detection, treatment and quality of life. Both ACS CAN and the Society have joined the discussion by sharing the stories of real cancer patients, like Sharon Brodrick, and their experiences in obtaining and paying for medical care.
The need for meaningful health care reform was illustrated in the results of a national poll of patients and families conducted by ACS CAN. Poll results found that one in four people currently receiving cancer-related care delayed treatment in the past year and nearly one in three people under the age of 65 had been uninsured at some point since their diagnosis. More than 40 percent reported experiencing difficulty affording care in the past few years.
Additional research conducted by the Society shows an increased likelihood for the uninsured to be diagnosed with late-stage cancer and to die from the disease.
With troubling results like these, ACS CAN has closely monitored health care reform legislation as it has made its way through Congress, asking lawmakers to strengthen it as much as possible for cancer patients. For example, ACS CAN has advocated eliminating the annual benefit caps that could subject cancer patients to a sudden termination of coverage for critical care, as well as making it unlawful to deny insurance coverage to individuals with preexisting conditions, a change that might have made all the difference for the Brodricks.
With the U.S. Senate and U.S. House now working to merge two separate bills that passed in late 2009 into a single bill, ACS CAN will continue working to encourage health care reform and improve access to care for cancer patients, their families and the 11 million survivors alive today.
Dan Brodrick remains steadfast in his support of those efforts, and while he knows there is a lot left to do, he believes it will pay off in the end. “We are going to win,” he says. “In a war, you have several battles, and we are going to win this battle, and we are going to win this
war.” The source of his passion and commitment are obvious. “This is something very near and dear to my heart. No one should have to suffer like Sharon and I did.”
Although employers provide a majority (62%) of Americans under the age of 65 with some form of insurance, nearly 46 million people (17%) are uninsured. According to research conducted by the American Cancer Society, the uninsured are less likely to receive lifesaving cancer screening tests, are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancers and are more likely to have lower survival rates. Health insurance coverage among individuals under age 65. Source: Current Population Survey, 2008
To learn more about what the Society is doing to ensure everyone has access to quality health care and what you can do to help, visit cancer.org/access, or call 1-800-227-2345.
“I Can’t Afford Any More Advances in Cancer Care, Doc!” By Craig R. Hildreth, MD,
From the Cancer Network - Home of the journal “Oncology”
Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us Time magazine cover story
The Cost of Cancer Cure Today magazine