Being diagnosed with and treated for cancer can be one of the most challenging and stressful experiences in a person’s life.

Paying for the everyday necessities such as your mortgage/rent, utilities and food shouldn’t be, however.

But unfortunately, with the costs of cancer care rising on every front – from diagnostic testing to hospitalization, patient out-of-pocket costs, and specialty drugs – many patients can’t manage the very real financial burdens associated with cancer care and are subsequently unable to access the life-saving treatment they need.

The clinicians and staff of Regional Cancer Care Associates understand this harsh reality and have joined forces with other caring individuals and organizations to form RCC Charities, a non-profit organization committed to providing cancer patients and their families with the practical assistance they need at a very difficult time in their lives.

And for cancer patient Elizabeth Cortijo, who receives treatment at RCCA’s Howell, N.J.location, such financial support has been an absolute lifeline and a blessing.

Easing the Burden

“In August 2019, I was diagnosed with stomach cancer that had spread to my liver, spleen, and diaphragm,” shared Cortijo, 60, a Freehold, N.J. resident.  “Dr. Ethan Wasserman of Regional Cancer Care Associates was the best doctor I could have ever asked for and got me placed on a brand-new oral chemotherapy medication to help shrink the tumor(s) prior to surgery.”

Since her surgery, that medication has successfully kept her cancer at bay, but Cortijo found that the cost of those drugs added a new item to her list of concerns.

“Earlier this year, during one of my regular check-ups, Dr. Wasserman noticed that I was looking a little sad and asked me why,” shared Cortijo, who proceeded to tell him about her financial issues.

“I had no health insurance when I first came to RCCA and their team went over and above to enroll me in Obamacare, but when my insurance recently changed and no longer covered my prescription drugs, I didn’t know how I’d pay for my chemo medication,” she explained.  On her own since her husband passed and unable to work for the past several years due to her medical condition, Cortijo found herself unable to afford her life-saving medication out of the limited income she received from Social Security.  “In the months where I don’t have the extra money for necessities, it hurts and comes out of my food bill,” she said.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, but Dr. Wasserman told me not to worry — RCCA had established RCC Charities and he and his team would help me submit an application for a grant,” she said.

Just as Cortijo was down to her last two chemo pills, “RCC Charities not only helped me find a more affordable prescription plan, but they approved my application and I received a grant for $500 this March, which enabled me to cover some of my food and gasoline expenses while going through my treatment,” she said.  “That little break gave me a bit of breathing room in my budget, especially with the price of food, gas, and other living expenses rising so much lately.”

Finding a Way

Cortijo recently received a second grant for $500 from RCC Charities and couldn’t be more grateful. It helped her pay the rent for the month.

“I never want to be greedy or take more than my share,” she confirmed.  “I take things day by day, but so far the medication has successfully kept my cancer from progressing; it helps avoid surgery or else will help enable a future surgery to be done in a more minimally invasive way.

“I don’t have a lot,” added Cortijo, whose tight budget renders her unable to afford a computer or TV, “but I feel very fortunate and I want to help give back in ways that I can.  RCCA has a wonderful, caring staff who make you feel like part of the family and they’ve given me so much.  You just don’t find good people like that.

“Donating to a cause like RCC Charities is a lifesaving thing, even if it’s just a few dollars,” Cortijo said of the importance of supporting others through their cancer journey.  “Every bit helps and you have no idea how that little thing you do truly helps people in need.

“Thanks to RCCA and RCC Charities,” she concluded, “they always help me find a way.”