Hurricane Sandy Victims: Help Cancer Patients Who Went Bankrupt in Storm

In a study recently published by a team of researchers in Washington state, it was found that persons who have been diagnosed with cancer were 2.5 times more likely to file for bankruptcy.

The team collected data from approximately 400,000 adults — half of which had received a cancer diagnosis during their lifetime and half who did not — and checked to see which of those adults filed for bankruptcy between the years of 1995 and 2009. The study did not look specifically at insurance coverage, but given the high cost of cancer-related medical treatments and the fact that between 40 and 85 % of patients stop working during initial treatment depending on the kind of cancer and the severity of their cancer diagnosis, it is not surprising that many cancer patients and survivors file for bankruptcy at some point in their lives regardless of their level of insurance coverage.

Now, consider this: you are undergoing treatment for cancer, you have left your job either temporarily or permanently because of your cancer diagnosis, your health insurance does not cover your expensive, but life saving medical treatments, and your home has been severely damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. How more likely will you and your family be to file bankruptcy at some point in your lifetime?

Given that the maximum support you could expect to receive from FEMA is a little over $30,000, to file a claim with an insurance company can be nothing short of nightmarish, and most families find themselves between $25,000 to $100,000 under-insured in the aftermath of a large-scale natural disaster, it is hard to imagine what you would do if you were also battling a life-threatening illness like cancer and mounting medical bills.

Do you sacrifice rebuilding or repairing your home in order to continue with chemotherapy? Or, do you stop medical treatment to prioritize rebuilding your home?

No family or individual should be forced to choose between rebuilding their home or continuing life-saving medical treatment, but, unfortunately, thousands of families affected by Hurricane Sandy are struggling with this decision seven months after the storm.

Thankfully, New York Says Thank You Foundation, the nation’s largest disaster relief organization in honor of the 9/11 Anniversary, has restarted its Build For LIFE program in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Build For LIFE identifies, prioritizes, and assists families battling cancer, leukemia, and HIV/AIDS in the aftermath of natural disaster and empowers cancer and leukemia survivors, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and their families, friends, and allies to volunteer on Build For LIFE disaster relief rebuilding projects.

Currently, Build For LIFE is the only program of its kind. While Habitat for Humanity, VOAD, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief may flag families with health-related issues and elevate these cases within the general population of relief recipients over time, prioritizing families with health-related issues is not their primary focus. Additionally, none of the major cancer, leukemia, or HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations such as Susan G. Komen, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or AIDS Walk, provide relief support to persons with these illnesses struck by a natural disaster.

If the post-Katrina long-term recovery process can teach the New York Metro Area anything, it is that communities affected by Hurricane Sandy will take years to fully recover, but relief programs like Build For LIFE can alleviate the financial burden placed on families battling cancer, leukemia, or HIV/AIDS struggling to recover from the storm. 

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Tracey Vitchers

Tracey is a feminist blogger for PolicyMic.com. Previously, Tracey wrote for The Huffington Post and Feministing's Community Blog. Her articles have been featured in Potentia Magazine, Feministing's Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet, and the Women's Campaign Fund newsletter. She has been quoted by MSNBC for her work with Students Active For Ending Rape (SAFER) and was featured on The Sean Hannity Show for her coverage of the Occupy Movement in September 2011. Tracey holds a Bachelor of the Arts in Women's Studies and English from Williams College and a Masters of the Arts in Comparative Women's Studies from Utrecht University. She has worked with numerous nonprofit organizations in project management, business development, communications, and public relations capacities. In her free time Tracey enjoys hiking with her dog, assembling Ikea furniture, and drinking coffee. Tracey works in New York City, but lives in the woods of Pennsylvania.

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