“You’d be surprised” is a phrase that Kelly Theesfeld, our program coordinator, often finds herself repeating when she talks about the incoming applications she receives each week. Although Angel Foundation offers financial assistance to many cancer patients who are struggling to find or hold jobs, more and more, our applicants are coming from a different pool.

 “Sometimes there is a stereotyped view of the type of people we help,” Kelly reports, “but it’s often Middle America, it’s not just the homeless or the uninsured”. Many Angel Foundation applicants have steady jobs, with solid health insurance, but those benefits simply don’t cover the massive, unexpected expenses of a cancer diagnosis.

Kelly explains that a typical patient from this group of applicants might look something like Laurie (Name, and some facts, changed for privacy). Six months ago, Laurie, 58, held a job in sales, making around $30,000 a year. Her job provided her with health insurance, and she lived comfortably in a rented apartment. But then Laurie’s life was turned upside-down. She received the bad news that the breast cancer she had beaten ten years ago was back.

After her employer learned of the recurrence, she was told that she would not be allowed to return to work until she was 100% recovered from treatment. Laurie immediately used all of her vacation days and short-term disability days, but after a few short weeks, they ran out. The co-payment for her insurance plan is $1000 a month Laurie pays it in full to cover her doctor’s visits and expensive, in-hospital treatments. Her co-payment does not cover her prescription medications; most cancer patients must take a battery of prescriptions at home to combat the side effects of their chemotherapy and/or radiation treatments. Laurie’s medications were nearing $1000 a month at the time of her application, making her total medical expenses close to her original take-home pay. Laurie’s savings quickly ran out, forcing her to leave her apartment and move in with her 25-year-old son. Although she took a part-time job to stay afloat, she can’t take on too many hours with the pain and exhaustion that comes with her treatments.

Laurie’s story clearly shows what many oncology practitioners and Angel Foundation staff members have begun to realize: these days, a cancer diagnosis can throw anyone’s life into a financial downward spiral. The bottom line, according to Kelly, is that “the people we help have insurance; they’re your next door neighbors. People don’t realize that something like this could easily happen to them.”