Cost of cancer: Patient shares story with News 6

'We've paid $52,000 so far out of pocket,' woman says

By Eryka Washington - Investigative Reporter

Nearly 13 million people will be diagnosed with cancer every year.

That means you probably know someone affected by it. The disease doesn't just attack your body; it can destroy your finances, too.

[WEB EXTRA: Financial Support Leukemia & Lymphoma Society I Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition I Cancer Care Financial Assistance Program I Health well Foundation]

Sherry Sims shared her family's struggle to fight cancer and all the medical bills that come with it.

Christmas is Sims' favorite holiday, but this year is tough.

Miles, her husband of 10 years, is battling lung cancer that has spread to his spine and brain.

"You handle it because you have to and you want to try to make them comfortable," said Sims.

To make matters worse, Sims spent the last year battling breast cancer.

Her focus should be only on her husband, but she's struggling with the mounting medical bills.

"Did you have any idea that you'd have to pay this much even with insurance?" News 6 investigator Eryka Washington asked.

"No, people always say, 'Don't worry about it, just pay a couple (of) bucks a month, the hospital will be fine with it,' but that is not at all the way that it is," Sims said.

Even with insurance, most patients have a financial responsibility: either a copay or co-insurance.

"We’ve paid $52,000 so far out of pocket. One of the most shocking ones was about $7,000 for a giant surgery that was actually our portion," said Sims.

"One of the toughest things was selling those personal items so you could make those payments?" Washington asked.

"Suddenly you start selling off your life, and all your memories become really important to you," said Sims.

They've sold her husband's truck, their pontoon boat, even golf clubs to pay medical bills.

"It's a death sentence for your finances whether you survive it or not," said Sims.

"It is challenging, you're so focused on the treatment and getting better, and you kind of put it aside," said Jackie Weber, a cancer survivor who works at UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health.

But Weber said there is financial assistance available.

"Most facilities, such as Orlando Health, we do work with our patients, and there are financial screening processes we can go through to see if there are programs they can qualify for," said Weber.

Programs like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society distributed over $900,000 last year to help Central Florida patients afford their treatment.

"Do (I) think without this program people would go without? Yes,  that's what they tell us, (that)without that co-pay assistance, they would not be able to afford their medication," said Kelley Lesperance, executive director of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

"I had lunch with one of our patients yesterday and he actually had to run home to sign for his medication because it's $13,000 a month," Lesperance said.

Patients must qualify for the assistance. Sims said she and her husband had trouble meeting the income requirements.

"We were just kind of stuck in the middle and just didn't qualify for anything," said Sims.

Sims said family and friends have helped them.

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