Crowdfunding for Cancer Care: A Virtual Safety Net

As the costs of cancer care rise, crowdfunding is helping some patients avoid a financial crash.
AS SOON AS 37-YEAR-OLD Lauren Carman Evans got over the initial shock of learning that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer that had already spread to her lymph nodes, she and her husband Daniel began to assess the reality of their new world.

Evans, the primary breadwinner, would need to quit her teaching job in Eureka, California, so that her family could move 300 miles closer to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center, where she’d be treated. This meant Daniel would have to put his college dreams on hold to care for Evans and their 5-month-old twins.

“Without my job, I didn’t see any way for us to pay for it all: the move, medical bills, feeding and diapering the twins,” says Evans. That’s when a family friend stepped in and offered to raise money for the couple using an online crowdfunding website called YouCaring.

Since the campaign launched in late August 2016, more than 250 donors — family members, friends and even strangers — have given $31,000 to the Evans family. Donations keep coming. “It’s a relief to be able to focus on the things that matter the most — my family and my survival — instead of worrying about money,” says Evans. For people like Evans, who face steep medical bills and restricted incomes, a number of crowdfunding sites such as GiveForward, YouCaring and GoFundMe have emerged as online safety nets.

The costs of new cancer drugs have increased dramatically over the past 15 years, some coming with price tags of up to $150,000 per year — and many of the patients who take them also need additional drugs and treatments.

Even with insurance, most people are on the hook for 20 to 30 percent of their medical expenses. And then there’s other unwanted, costly baggage such as hotel stays, travel, reduced work hours, job loss and caregiving. It’s not surprising, then, that the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that people with cancer are more than twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as people who don’t have cancer.

This bit of depressing news makes perfect sense to Gena Felker, who, since 2012, has been undergoing treatment for a rare and aggressive form of thyroid cancer. If not for the $34,000 she’s managed to raise on her GiveForward crowdfunding site, Felker swears she’d be homeless.

“It’s astonishing how quickly a major medical disaster can bring you to financial ruin,” says the Denton, Texas resident. “My husband and I wiped out our savings paying for my first surgery almost five years ago. We’ve been living hand-to-mouth ever since.”


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