Molly & Leo Peterson
When your diagnosis is blood cancer, getting through treatment and getting healthy are the only things that should matter. Extreme burdens such as out of pocket expenses, emotional hardships and financial stress should not be part of the equation. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality for the thousands of Michigan families currently fighting these diseases.
On Molly’s 52nd birthday, the night before she and her husband Leo planned to celebrate their anniversary in Hawaii, Molly fell down the stairs and broke her neck. It was in the ER, that scans revealed what had made her bones especially weak: cancerous lesions on three vertebrae.
Instead of getting on a plane, Molly stayed in the hospital as doctors put a plan in place to control her pain and considered treatment. Subsequent tests showed bone lesions throughout her body, and an oncologist determined she had multiple myeloma, a chronic and life-threatening blood cancer that she would need to fight and manage for the rest of her life.
Within a few months, Molly had undergone several treatments, which culminated with a stem cell transplant. Side effects, out of pocket expenses, emotional stress and fear were regular visitors at this point, but she was home, recovering and coping with all of it. During this recovery period, her husband Leo received a blood cancer diagnosis of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Both Molly’s and Leo’s diagnoses have been devastating. Despite doing “everything right” (working, saving, maintaining health insurance), blood cancer has wiped out their energy, their time and most of their resources. They are discussing things they never thought they would, and making life-altering decisions they had never considered. They have faced the possibility that they could lose their home, and they have both delayed treatment so that their insurance would cover more.
Molly and Leo’s example may be unusual as they are both fighting blood cancer, but it exemplifies a situation that happens too often in our state. The difference between maintaining the life you’ve worked hard for and having to fight to make ends meet can be as simple as a diagnosis. Life changes, instantly, in ways that you could not imagine.
Molly enrolled with The Blood Cancer Foundation of Michigan (BCFM) after attending our monthly support group. To her, what is so significant, is that BCFM offers support in concrete ways, whatever the need.
“It’s not just, ‘I’m here for you’ or ‘let me know what you need,’ it’s ‘’these are the services we have, join us…we have a support group, a fun night out, we can help you cover a month of your insurance premium, reimburse you for your prescriptions, and we can help you get other resources elsewhere,’” Molly says.
And, join us she did. Together, we created a customized plan to meet Molly’s immediate needs, brought in resources to help with her those challenges, and will continue to update her plan as her needs change. Leo, too, has an individualized plan, and we’re cognizant that his blood cancer, and his needs, are different.
Constantly coping with the fact that, unlike some other cancers, Molly will never get to remission, she gets a lot out of the monthly support group because she’s among people who are all battling blood cancer, and hoping for the best outcomes.
“Friends and family understand, but unless you’re living it, it’s hard to imagine waking up every day with a cancer that doesn’t go away – today you could be fine, tomorrow you could be stressed about money, or sick because your immune system is suppressed,” says Molly. ”Getting together and sharing resentment or frustration is a huge comfort.”
Molly and Leo didn’t expect this to happen to them, and certainly not in the same year. One thing Molly told herself when she was first diagnosed, was that while this experience is out of her control, she can use it to positively impact other people. Beyond telling her story, she’s created her own support group in her community. She refuses to let cancer win.
At the Blood Cancer Foundation of Michigan, we will stay with Molly, and Leo, supporting them during their fight, for as long as they need us. We are proud of our commitment to the Petersons, and to the thousands of other patients and families that rely on us as a part of their solution.