Carolina De La Peña, patient resources coordinator at City of Hope
Fighting cancer is difficult enough. But having your car break down and not having the money to cover repairs so you can drive to your treatment appointments can push a person to the brink of despair.
That was the case recently for a City of Hope patient with chronic myeloid leukemia.
The 50-year-old mother of three (22, 16 and 11 years old) had racked up a series of tragedies in quick succession: Upon her diagnosis, her husband of 20 years left her. She had to quit her longtime job in the banking industry and go on disability because she developed graft versus host disease and its attendant complications following a bone marrow transplant in 2015. Her vision was affected by her treatment, yet she could not even afford glasses. And then she was hit with $3,000 in car repairs.
She stopped coming to her medical appointments at City of Hope for three months, until her doctor intervened by contacting a staff social worker, who in turn worked with Carolina De La Peña, patient resources coordinator at the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center
in City of Hope’s Department of Supportive Care Medicine
. Previously, the patient had been traveling to City of Hope from her home in Lancaster at least twice a week for care.
De La Peña got in touch with the patient about her financial needs and immediately applied for a grant on her behalf from the Change a Life Foundation
, which provides 10 grants a year for what De La Peña calls “some of our neediest patients.”
The maximum amount Change a Life will grant an individual applicant is $7,500 and De La Peña was able to get her patient $7,400, which included the $3,000 for her car repairs, plus money for new tires, plus $250 for glasses, as well as other much-needed financial assistance.
“She’s one of many other patients who have received similar grants for similar things, but for her I think it was especially touching because she was able to keep receiving treatment,” De La Peña said.
For a patient to stop treatment due to financial hardship such as a non-functioning car “isn’t unusual,” De La Peña added. “You’re talking about our neediest patients here.”
The patient’s response was well worth the effort, De La Peña said.
“She has been extremely grateful and broke down in the hallway. I think she was overwhelmed by everyone who came together to make this grant happen for her, from the physician who talked to the social worker to the social worker who talked to me so I could write her grant.”
The regular grant process “is extremely lengthy,” De La Peña said, although it is possible to request “an emergency grant for up to $5,000 with a three-day turnaround time.” Due to the patient’s level of need, De La Peña sought the maximum amount, which takes longer.
“She knew the process would take some time and she has been wonderful,” De La Peña said of the patient. “We had to jump through some hoops with this grant and she’s had lots of patience.”
Of the 10 Change a Life grants City of Hope is allowed each year, all 10 are usually claimed by early July. “But I keep submitting grants until I reach the maximum of $75,000 and not the number of grants allowed, right up to the end of December,” De La Peña said.
“What I do is rewarding,” she added. “Knowing a deserving patient got much-needed help and that they are able to continue treatment is extremely gratifying. It’s what keeps me coming back.”