OC Patient Stories

Physicians start fund to help patients with radiation care costs

The Department of Radiation Oncology at City of Hope has created the Radiation Oncology Patient Assistance Fund to  provide financial assistance to patients with financial hardship who are unable to afford much-needed over-the-counter products not covered by insurance. It’s making a profound difference to patients and their families — and has even grabbed the attention and support of a “rock solid” celebrity.

Expensive Post-Treatment Products

Patients who undergo radiation often have burning, itching skin and develop mouth sores, depending on the site of radiation. Lotions and ointments created specifically for radiation patients are available at most pharmacies and drug stores, as are amino acid supplements that can lessen the severity of treatment-related mouth ulcers. These items are not covered by insurance and can be expensive, costing several hundred dollars over the course of treatment, making them cost-prohibitive for some  patients. Nonprescription medications like Glutasolve can cost around $200 for a seven-week supply; the postradiation therapy lotion Miaderm is about $40 per bottle and typically requires two bottles during the treatment timeline.
Radiation therapy typically consists of daily treatments, five days per week, for a total of up to six or more weeks. Additionally, multiple daily transportation costs can be significant and may pose another financial barrier to completion of therapy. The fund has also been made available to patients who need to pay for gas or rideshare services for their long commute to and from Duarte.
Without assistance, some would forego the products and recuperate without them, or potentially either decide against radiation treatment or not finish their treatment, which could hurt their chances of survival.

‘No Patient Should Have to Choose’

“We believe that no patients should have to choose between paying rent or putting groceries on the table, and paying for their treatment,” said Jennifer Novak, M.D., a clinical resident in radiation oncology at City of Hope who created the fund after hearing from some of her patients that they would not be able to afford the products. “This patient assistance fund eases the financial burden for patients who have to go through radiation therapy.”
Jennifer Novak
Jennifer Novak, M.D.
“Undergoing treatment for cancer can be stressful as it is,” she said. “Financial concerns are often an added source of anxiety that we are addressing for the good of patients’ health and peace of mind.”
Arya Amini, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and chief of thoracic radiotherapy at City of Hope, champions the fund, and helps in getting donations, as well as having conversations with his own patients who may need financial aid.
“I fully support the idea that all patients should have access to the best cancer care, regardless of their ability to pay,” he said. “Patients who can’t get these products because of a hardship are going to have worse side effects and will need breaks, which can hurt their chance of cure. This prolongs treatment and impacts patient outcomes.”

Offering the Best Chance for a Cure

“Everyone should have a fair shot at beating their cancer,” Novak added. “These donations may be the reason why a patient is able to complete her or his course of radiation therapy, giving her or him the best chance of cure.”
Currently, the fund is only available to radiation oncology patients on City of Hope’s Duarte campus, but Novak and Amini said they have plans to expand to other City of Hope locations as support grows. Patients are deemed eligible through a screening process based on statewide definitions of financial need. Novak and Amini are also working with social workers and supportive care staff so they can help identify all patients who may qualify for assistance.

Enter Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson

Novak began the fund humbly, relying on donations from family and friends initially, which led to a more formal GoFundMe page that generated additional donations as the funding resource became more well known.
Through the power of social media, actor and philanthropist Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson heard about Novak’s fund and was moved to contribute himself through his own personal charity in partnership with the Teremana tequila brand. Johnson even virtually surprised Novak while she was visiting family in her native Michigan to make the donation live.
“That was wild,” said Novak. “I had posted about the fund on my social media and he saw it on Twitter. He promoted it a lot on his own social media. Since this started, we have received much more in donations than I ever imagined. That visibility really boosted our donations and gave us so much enthusiasm to keep going.”
Because of the fund’s early success, Novak and Amini have since partnered with City of Hope’s Office of Philanthropy and have created a page on the OurHope donation platform. Some patients and their families have been so impressed with the level of care they received and the compassion and altruism of the fund that they made donations themselves.

Patients Paying it forward

Peter Lee, the chief technology officer for a company called Kroll, a provider of services and digital products, had made a generous contribution to the fund and, on a broader scale, to City of Hope overall after a member of his family received excellent care as a patient of Amini. He has even organized a fundraiser at his office, encouraging his staff to support the fund.
Arya Amini
Arya Amini, M.D.
“What motivated us to make our first donation was how impressed we were with City of Hope,” Lee said. “Throughout our whole ordeal, everyone we met was professional and had such a great attitude. They were compassionate and willing to help, from the doctors and care team to the valets. Honestly, I’ve never seen quite that level of excellence anywhere else. It’s incredible.”  
“If I were put in other shoes and had to see loved ones go through cancer and radiation and not have access to something that is going to help them in the healing process, it would be heartbreaking,” Lee continued. “For my family, we are very fortunate to have the resources for treatment and products, but not everyone does. I know how important those supplements can be. They make a huge difference. For us, they were a medical necessity, and no one should be denied that.”
You can learn more about the Radiation Oncology Patient Assistance Fund, make your own donation, and share with family and friends on your own social media channels, here.