Cancer not patients' only burden in tough economic times
Breast-cancer survivors preparing for the annual Race for the Cure on Sunday have plenty to celebrate. Survival rates are rising, new drugs promise longer lives and prevention has become a social buzz.
But for a growing number of women, the rocky economy has made a difficult fight tougher, social workers say.
They say demand for breast-cancer support groups and assistance agencies across Western Pennsylvania has surged the past few years, driven in part by uninsured and underinsured patients seeking help.
“They lose their job; they lose their insurance,” said Dolores Magro, director of patient advocacy for the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition. She said she took cold calls from 280 patients seeking help in 2012, up from 75 in 2010. Many were newly diagnosed and struggling with insurance or other financial worries.
Statistics in Pittsburgh tell a similar story. The nonprofit Gilda's Club Western Pennsylvania in the Strip District nearly doubled membership last year in its free breast-cancer support group, which had 31 patients by December. Meanwhile, the Bloomfield-based Cancer Caring Center runs nine breast-cancer support groups in and around the city, up from five a couple years ago. All are free.
“I don't know where I would be without going there to vent,” said Samantha Conley, 26, of Mt. Washington, who was diagnosed at age 23. “It just brings you back to reality.”
Leaders at the Cancer Caring Center pointed to several factors that influence the support-group boom, including upticks in younger patients and wider social acceptance of support groups.
Even for women who have insurance, patients said, the groups and agencies that organize them have gained popularity as pillars of financial and emotional guidance. Breast-cancer survivor Naomi Howard, 56, of Hampton and her husband paid about $20,000 for medical care last year despite being insured. They had retired early but have since picked up part-time work.
“Nobody walks entirely in your shoes, but often the journey is very, very similar,” Howard said of support-group friends who “understand the insanity” of breast cancer. She's among about 30,000 people expected this weekend for the 21st Susan G. Komen Pittsburgh Race for the Cure.
The fundraising walk and 5K run will begin about 8:30 a.m. in Schenley Park, helping the Komen organization to finance patient assistance and related causes.
“There are options available for all women,” from public assistance to charity care, said Crystal Costanza Ross, director of the Allegheny Cancer Center at Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side.
At the Breast Cancer Coalition, Magro said she worries most about women who don't seek help, unaware of the assistance available. She said the coalition alerts many to the Medicaid-funded Pennsylvania Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Program, which provides help to those who qualify.
Participants in a related state screening program for low-income women numbered more than 11,400 in 2011-12, up from 10,691 in 2009-10. Participation eclipsed 12,000 in 2008-09, around the height of the recession.
UPMC noticed the trend in its Magee-Women's Cancer Program, where patient “navigators” logged about 1,100 interactions with women last year about financial assistance and insurance concerns. That figure is on pace to surpass 1,200 this year as recently laid-off workers and those in between jobs seek help, said program administrator Judy Herstine.
“It's not just insurance issues. It's having the financial wherewithal to do a lot of other things — transportation, having money to buy medication,” she said.
Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Approval for Wal-Mart closer in McCandless
- UPMC, Pittsburgh drop tax-status fight
- Foreign influx in Allegheny County at ‘tipping point’
- Grand jury report says Western Psych failed to cooperate with police
- Evacuees return to Young Hotel apartments in Pitcairn
- 1 intruder killed, other shot and wounded in Carrick home invasion
- Pittsburgh crime down overall in 2013 but rapes, homicides increased
- TSA finds .380-caliber handgun in carry-on bag at Pittsburgh International Airport
- Allegheny County alert system expands to public works, health
- Newsmaker: Kevin Hogan
- Turtle Creek’s man death ruled a homicide