True Costs of Cancer: How are You Paying for Cancer?

A "Living Cancer" exclusive from WNYC

In our reporting for NPR, WNYC producers Amanda Aronczyk and Paige Cowett asked listeners to share their own stories of paying for cancer. They responded in droves. And they didn’t just mention the bills. Some patients found themselves unable to work WNYC_NoFreq_Webduring or even after treatment, reducing their earning power and creating a new layer of cancer costs to struggle with.

Here are a few of their stories:

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Maureen Carrigg

Maureen Carrigg, from Wayne, Nebraska, used money from her son’s college savings plan to stay afloat after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2007. “I went into the cancer center’s office with these bills and just started bawling, because I couldn’t figure out how I was going to pay it all back.”

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Stephanie Gangi

Stephanie Gangi has been diagnosed with breast cancer five times since 2000. Even though her treatments are expensive, she hasn’t asked for a raise at work to avoid taking on extra stress. I live in NYC– surely one of the most expensive places to live – to be near the best in-network doctors and to be close to Mt Sinai for monthly treatments. At my age, I could be considering moving somewhere cheaper, but my treatment has been successful. It’s too stressful to leave the cancer network that has kept me going for 15 years.”

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Ginger Roethemeyer (seated) and her sisters (from left to right): Phylis Anderson, Melva Jean Geiser, and Joyce Jesse

Ginger Roethemeyer (seated) worked as an oncology nurse before her Lymphoma diagnosis in 2010. She cashed out her 401 (k) in order to pay off medical bills. If the cancer comes back — which it will because it’ll eventually come back — I’m not sure what I’ll do. I don’t want to not be able to live my life because I’m constantly harassed about money.”


Cynthia Phillips

Cynthia Phillips was an OBGYN in Houston, TX before she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January 2012. But after treatment, she became unable to work:

“I had to close my practice, which has been very sad. I miss it. I enjoyed being a physician, I enjoyed seeing my patients and talking with them and that aspect of patient care.”


Cindy Alsobrook with her husband, Chris Alsobrook

Cindy Alsobrook was diagnosed with cervical cancer in June 2013, and she had to leave her job at a local shoe store in Seattle, Washington, after developing severe lymphedema. Her husband is now the sole breadwinner. She would love to go back to work, not just for the financial stability, but for the emotional fulfillment as well.

It’s easy to feel like you don’t count. But you know that you do. And I know that I have a lot to offer the world, but I feel like I’ve been shelved because I’ve been sick.”


This article was written exclusively for The Producers’ Blog by WNYC producers Amanda Aronczyk and Paige Cowett. During the week of March 23rd-27th, 2015, WNYC and NPR will be airing “Living Cancer” a radio companion series to the film “Cancer: Emperor of All Maladies.” Explore the series and return to The Producers’ Blog throughout the week to see more exclusive content.

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