When Arlington resident Betsy Rulon was diagnosed with colon cancer 11 years ago, surgeons removed “an inch of stuff” before starting her on chem
When Arlington resident Betsy Rulon was diagnosed with colon cancer 11 years ago, surgeons removed “an inch of stuff” before starting her on chemotherapy. The cancer and treatment ultimately required inpatient rehabilitation.
She had health insurance, but the bills had a way of sneaking up.
For example, one wheelchair-accessible ride from her rehab facility to her doctor’s clinic: $6,000. Insurance didn’t cover it.
“I’m on Social Security,” Rulon says, “And you can’t afford that on Social Security.”
Enter the Sanborn Foundation, a local nonprofit that helps Arlington residents who have a cancer diagnosis.
Rulon called Lourie August, the foundation’s longtime volunteer board chair, who set things into motion. The foundation negotiated the price down, and then paid the bill.
“Sanborn has been my ‘secret guardian angel’ at my back, taking care of my cancer-related medical expenses,” Rulon says. “Thank heaven for them.”
The foundation provides three types of support: direct grants to individuals to cover cancer-treatment costs, rides to medical appointments and grants to individuals and nonprofit organizations that help those with cancer.
“Cancer is a tough diagnosis,” says August. “Anything we can do to help make the journey easier for people is very rewarding.”
The foundation’s money comes from earnings of an endowment left by the late George Sanborn in honor of his wife, Elizabeth, who died of breast cancer in 1931. George, who died much later, left $3 million to establish a cancer hospital in Arlington. Ultimately, a court decided that was impracticable, and the bequest was used to create a foundation to help Arlington residents with cancer.
The fund has grown to $7 million. Officially, the Elizabeth and George L. Sanborn Foundation for the Treatment and Cure of Cancer, Inc., the foundation has given more than $2.5 million in grants, including $1 million to individuals with cancer, since its inception in 1999.
In recent years, in recognition of the growing burden of medical costs, the board decided to channel more money into helping individuals with cancer pay their bills.
“Even people with health insurance have large deductibles and co-pays,” August says. “Having a cancer diagnosis has gotten a lot more expensive than it used to be.”
In 2017, the foundation distributed $250,000 to Arlington residents to help cover medical costs, more than double the amount distributed for that purpose the prior year. Forty-eight residents received an average of $5,250 in grants in 2017.
The foundation also made grants in 2017 to the Arlington Public Schools in support of tobacco education; and to writing instructor Pamela Powell, who leads “Writing Our Way Through Cancer” workshops.
Powell, who was treated for early-stage breast cancer herself, says the workshops are a place where people can unload some of their experience:
“To me it’s an incredible honor and privilege to hear people’s experience in their own words, to get a glimpse into what’s really going on in people’s hearts. And for them too – a lot of times that gets totally brushed over, especially in the medical world.”
Powell is running her third six-week writing series. The workshops are free and open to any Arlington resident with a cancer diagnosis.
The foundation’s ride program is another critical service. Eileen Morrissey-Kovacev, who drives for the taxi service under contract with Sanborn, says: “We are there for these people who need somebody but don’t want to bother their family members. And a lot of these people don’t have family members who can do this. I ask them, ‘How are you feeling?’”
The foundation’s 2016 decision to boost grants to individuals reflects a growing understanding of the financial challenges that a cancer diagnosis often brings. The national nonprofit Family Reach, which provides financial support to families with cancer, reports the following findings on what they call cancer-related financial toxicity:
-- Up to 73 percent of adult cancer patients experience some sort of cancer-related financial toxicity. Higher levels of financial stress are associated with decreased quality of life, poorer treatment adherence and poorer survival for adult cancer patients.
-- 38 percent of adult cancer patients postponed or did not fill drug prescriptions to reduce costs. Adult cancer patients are 2.65 times more likely to file for bankruptcy than patients of a similar age without cancer.
-- Patients who filed for bankruptcy had a 79 percent greater risk of early mortality than patients who did not.
With its targeted mission and generous endowment, the Sanborn Foundation is unique. Betsy Rulon can attest to its impact: “One constantly reads the stories about people having to choose between having to choose between medication and food – I would have been totally lost without Sanborn.”
This news feature, by YourArlington freelancer Rebecca Braun, was published on Saturday, May 26, 2018.
Editor’s note: The author has received two cancer diagnoses, and she used the Sanborn Foundation’s ride program to get to and from a cancer-related medical appointment in May.