Cancer Care Fund
Improving Quality of Life for Cancer Patients
Coping with cancer is one of life’s greatest challenges. But imagine the added stress of not having health insurance to pay for treatment, having to choose between purchasing medicine or groceries for your family, or being too weak to walk but unable to afford a wheelchair or walker. Thanks to an extraordinary University Medical Center social worker named Maria Luisa Licon and the program she established called Sobreviviendo El Cancer/Surviving Cancer, thousands of El Paso cancer patients have received the help they needed at a critical time in their lives.
Through Sobreviviendo, the University Medical Center is able to provide cancer treatment for low-income patients and support each individual on his or her journey toward becoming a cancer survivor. In the past 18 months, the University Medical Center Foundation has acquired $35,000 in funding for the program through grants ranging from $5,000 to $15,000. These funds enable Licon, a Licensed Social Worker, to evaluate the needs of patients who have been referred to the program. Three registered nurses and a Health Unit Coordinator work with Licon to provide what is most needed for each patient to adhere to his or her regimen.
Having grown up in El Paso’s second ward, Licon identifies with the needs of her patients. She lived with her parents and six siblings in a two-room house with no heat. The family relied on food stamps for groceries. “The social worker who helped us was so kind,” she remembers. “It made me want to help others.” The only family member to finish college, Maria applied for and received grants and commuted to and from New Mexico for five years to complete her degree as a Licensed Social Worker.
Sobreviviendo is a comprehensive program that addresses a range of issues. Every patient receives an initial assessment to determine financial eligibility for health services, medical services, and pharmacy needs, as well as factors that may interfere with the patient’s care plan, such as lack of transportation. When possible, Licon meets with family members to determine the nature of the patient’s support system.
Many patients need help applying for assistance programs such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or food stamps. Licon helps patients with paperwork and, if necessary, arranges for a representative from the agency to meet with them. Patients without health insurance require financial aid so that they can provide for their families throughout their illness. Last year, one quarter of the patients served through the program received assistance with rent and utilities, home care, medications or medical co-payments.
Counseling is another valuable service offered to program participants. Most Sobreviviendo patients are being treated for breast or colon cancer. The stress and anxiety that accompany such a diagnosis can alarm a patient and potentially disrupt the treatment plan. Therapeutic counseling helps newly diagnosed and recurrent cancer patients maintain a positive mental state while undergoing chemotherapy or other treatment.
Regardless of the need, Licon works hard to find a solution to every patient’s problems. Those without transportation to and from chemotherapy and radiation appointments may be given free tickets to the Sun Metro Lift Bus. The cost of renting expensive therapeutic equipment is also covered. A 56-year-old patient diagnosed with laryngeal cancer was able to access the grant funds to pay for the rental of the suction machine and the tracheostomy supplies he needed. A 60-year-old lung cancer patient expressed his gratitude for the financial assistance provided to pay his rent and utility bills so that his family would not be evicted. “I’m deeply grateful to the program that helped me when I had no income and bills needed to be paid,” he said. “I recently received a letter from Social Security informing me that my SSI claim had been approved.”
After patients complete their treatment, they are referred to community agencies for additional services if needed. Community partners include:
· American Cancer Society
· The Rio Grande Cancer Foundation
· Cancer Care
· Cancer Consortium of El Paso
· The Leukemia/ Lymphoma Foundation
· Mary Peyton Foundation
· St. Vincent DePaul
· El Paso General Assistance
· Project Bravo
· Area Agency on Aging
These organizations continue to assist El Paso’s low-income patients as they manage their illness.
“I love what I do,” Licon says. “The patients think I’m special because I help them. They say, “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t come for treatment. Because of you, we were not evicted.” And that makes it all worthwhile.
Also in this Section
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- 11/27/13 COSTCO Donated $14,266.00 to Children's Miracle Network
- 11/25/13 University Medical Center Foundation Awarded $40,000 Grant From Bank of America Foundation
- 10/23/13 "The Perfect Turnover” Raises Over $200,000 To Benefit El Paso Children's Hospital
- 10/08/13 UMC Foundation Receives $5000 from Shamaley Ford