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175914551Almost everyone has a fear that someday a doctor will come into the examining room and tell them they have cancer.   Well, it’s happened.  You have stage two breast cancer.  You have a husband and three children at home – the youngest only five.  Terrible thoughts run through your head – will I die?  Will I suffer?  Who will take care of my children?  What do I do now?  You find out you need surgery and then seven months of chemo and seven more weeks of radiation – so you set up the appointments – only to find out when you get there – that you have no insurance to pay for your treatment.  Now what happens?
That’s what Debbie Lawrence (named changed to protect privacy) was asking herself about seven years ago.  She says her husband had just gone into business for himself and they couldn’t afford the $1500 a month charge for Cobra so he found some insurance on his own.  He got it just a day before Debbie had her mammogram that told her she had cancer.  But it was too late, the insurance company said the cancer was a pre-existing condition and the hospital wouldn’t treat her without payment.  Lawrence fought it, but she didn’t win.  She and her husband ended up $75,000 in debt.  In order to try to pay down the debt they had to sell their home.  They’re still paying on that debt now.


It happens to a lot of people.  They find out they have cancer, then they lose their insurance or they lose their jobs with nowhere to turn.  That’s where Legal Services of Eastern Michigan (LSEM) comes in.  LSEM is applying for funding to provide services exclusively to victims of breast cancer.  It would be the most comprehensive approach to help breast cancer victims who are at their most vulnerable.


“We want to be there for them,” says Ed Hoort, executive director of Legal Services of Eastern Michigan (LSEM).  “These women and men have all kinds of legal issues to deal with.  They include paying medical bills, drawing up wills and powers of attorney; they face divorce, unemployment problems, foreclosure and even disability and collection issues because they can’t work to pay their bills. LSEM has a holistic approach that can address all these issues at the same time to help eliminate hardship.”


Clarice Jones (name changed) worked in a medical facility for more than 20 years and she found herself in a similar situation as Debbie Lawrence mentioned above.  After being diagnosed with cancer, having surgery and undergoing treatment she came back to work and realized it was hard to do one part of her job which was pushing around patient beds.  She said the facility wouldn’t honor her restrictions so she was sent back out on sick leave until it finally ran out. Jones fought to get back to work but she lost her appeal because despite the fact that other employees only had to move beds part of the time, Jones was told it was 80 percent of her job so she was forced to resign.


“There aren’t many organizations that actually help people with these types of problems after they’ve been diagnosed with cancer,” says Hoort.  “We think it’s time these victims have a voice and someone to fight for their rights.  After all, they didn’t do anything wrong.  No one wants to get cancer and with all our medical advancements it doesn’t have to be a death sentence for the individual or their career and livelihood.”


Legal Services of Eastern Michigan is a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance in civil matters to eligible low-income people. 1-800-322-4512. 

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