New Class to Help Patients’ Families Understand Cost of Cancer

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa –Childhood cancer affects families in many ways, including financially.

Fifth grader Gracie Crowell has missed quite a bit of school the last year and a half. "I had been back to the doctor a lot of times, and I really did not feel well. I had missed two months of school by then."

She was diagnosed with leukemia in March of 2017 and started asking life and death questions. Mom Jeanet Crowell said, "To think a 9 year-old has to ask that question, am I going to die? So, when you get past that point, not worrying if I'm going to die today or tomorrow, then you have the next, how are we going to get through this? How are we going to pay for this?"

When you add up the cost of drugs, clinic visits, and hospital stays, it's overwhelming. "The first initial stay, it was over $100,000. It was a 5-day hospital stay. We achieved our out of pocket maximum deductible within four months, and that was $6,000 just for her portion of it," said Crowell.

In addition to medical bills, the family faces a reduction of income. “We’re a dual income family. We rely on both incomes. I don’t always get to work because she’s sick and she needs me.”

Resources are available for patients with cancer, but it can be tough to navigate. John Stoddard Cancer Center is hosting a new series of classes this October called Oncology Finance 101.

Adolescent & Young Adult Program Coordinator Rachel Fyfe said, "The first session we're focusing on health insurance, understanding health insurance, it's kind of foreign language to a lot people."

Other topics include employment, legal issues, and how you can get help paying bills. The Oncology Finance 101 is a free four-week class for cancer patients of all ages, including families of kids with cancer. You can sign up on John Stoddard Cancer's website.

The American Cancer Society offers a Cancer Resource Connection at www.cancer.org. You can also call 1-800-227-2345. It can help patients find rides to appointments, get a hotel room during treatment, along with other resources.

Gracie has about eight months left of treatment. An organization called Tori's Angels will pick up the rest of her medical bills. "It's just a huge relief, burden off our shoulders. It's super. I can't even put it into words,” said her mom.

Angels for Sam and the Pinky Swear Foundation also help families of pediatric patients with financial resources during treatment.