Easing the ‘Financial Toxicity’ of Cancer

Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center’s Patient Compassion Program is a Lifeline for Many

The year 2020 will go down in history as a tough one for the world at large, but for the Stipe family in Covington, it was particularly difficult. That’s when married father of two, Bubba Stipe, then 44, was diagnosed with colon cancer during a colonoscopy.

“Even before he woke up from the anesthesia, the doctor pulled me aside,” recalls Bubba’s wife, Christina. Bubba, a St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office Sergeant, had Stage 4 colon cancer, and it had spread to his liver and lymph nodes. Thus began a long and arduous treatment process that has reached over 50 rounds of chemotherapy over three years.

Bubba Stipe at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Covington“Bubba’s pretty much been in treatment since his diagnosis except for a five-month period,” said Christina, a kindergarten teacher. “The care he has received at Mary Bird Perkins in Covington has been incredible. They’ve treated us like family. We absolutely love his infusion nurse.”

Christina says that the kindness shared by the Cancer Center’s clinical staff has been unwavering, and it’s made a true difference in the family’s ability to maintain a positive outlook. And in addition, the Stipes say they have experienced life-saving generosity from Mary Bird Perkins’ Patient Compassion Fund, which helps ease the financial burden families often face during the cancer journey.  Even if a patient is insured, costs accumulate in the form of deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses, unbudgeted items and lost wages, said Mary Bird Perkins Manager of Support Services and Navigation Maeghan Jacob.

“The financial toxicity of cancer has not been talked about enough,” Maeghan said. “It doesn’t matter what your income bracket is.”

Each year, generous donations from local communities fuel the Cancer Center’s Patient Compassion Fund to ensure that every patient has access to all the resources and support services capable of delivering the best possible outcome, regardless of their personal financial situation. At the outset of treatment, Mary Bird Perkins’ patient navigators counsel each family, exploring what their insurance will support and where they may struggle. Removing the worry from the financial part of the equation goes a long way in helping patients like Bubba focus on the most important task of all: healing.

The Cancer Center’s team of navigators informs patients and their families about options available to them through the Patient Compassion Fund. The program can offer direct financial assistance to help offset out-of-pocket expenses, and provide funding when other sources of financial support have been exhausted, Maeghan says.

Christina says it’s been a gamechanger and a godsend.

“We are so grateful for the financial support we’ve received through Mary Bird Perkins,” Christina says, adding that the program has helped the couple, who both work full-time, cover out-of-pocket costs and help stabilize their family obligations. They have two daughters, ages 19 and 16.

Bubba Stipe with his care team at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in CovingtonDepending on a patient’s needs, patient navigators can also direct families to numerous other resources. While the Patient Compassion Fund provides financial assistance for care and treatment, support from grants, patient assistance programs, and Mary Bird Perkins’ Partners of Hope team member giving program helps leverage additional resources, working to deliver utility assistance, gas cards, private transportation to treatment and even a therapeutic food pantry stocked with fresh produce, frozen meals, shelf stable items and other healthy foods. 

“Every patient’s cancer experience is different,” said Tanya Suter, director, revenue cycle management, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. “That’s why we want to give them as many options as possible to address the financial stressors that can come with a diagnosis.”

The program’s navigators work closely with patients so that they understand exactly what their insurance covers, and what it doesn’t. Navigators take a proactive approach in developing comprehensive plans to meet each patient’s unique needs, working closely with the care team and administrative staff to ensure plans are carried out and adjusted as needed. Along with the funds available for those of certain income levels, financial navigators can also help patients apply for financial assistance that partially or completely covers the cost of medications and copays.

“Difficult financial situations are unfortunately all too common,” Suter said. “If we can ease the burdens faced by our patients, their quality of life, and potentially outcomes, can improve.”

Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center’s Patient Compassion Fund is made possible through the unwavering generosity of donors who believe in the community cancer center’s vital mission. The fund embodies a shared commitment to ensuring every patient receives exceptional, compassionate care without the burden of financial worry. To learn more about how you can support this program, visit marybird.org.