Hello. I’m Jennifer, wife to the wonderful Eric. Until recently, although we’ve encountered our fair share of difficulties, we’ve always been able to pull through. We rely on Eric, who is a hard-working IT professional in the metro Detroit area to be the sole breadwinner for our family of 7 while I run the household, homeschool our 5 children, and help care for my elderly parents. Along with being devoted to the family, Eric is a lifelong science fiction fan, avid reader, and enjoys building computers for friends and family.
Like I have said, we’ve had our fair share of struggles, but until this past winter, we thought things were on the upswing. After a number of financial setbacks due to how hard the recession hit the metro Detroit IT industry, we thought life was comfortably stable so we recently moved into our modest dream home, where our five homeschooled children have room to follow their pursuits.
Then, it all fell apart in December 2013 when Eric found a golf ball sized lump in his neck. Diagnostics and testing determined it was not infection. After ultrasound, CT scan, needle biopsy, and PET/CT scans, the lump was determined to be suspicious for squamous cell cancer but without a definitive diagnosis. April 11, he endured a tonsillectomy, excision of the mass, a partial neck dissection/removal of most of the lymph nodes in one side of his neck, a triple endoscopy, and further biopsies. This resulted in two weeks off work for recovery, what Eric described as, "gargling broken glass and hydrochloric acid at the same time".
Two incredibly long weeks of dread anticipation crept by before the diagnosis came back:Stage 3 Metastatic Squamous Neck Cancer with Occult Primary.
“Occult primary” means they don't know where the cancer originated. The doctors think they got it all but What If? The surgery was supposed to pinpoint exactly what type of cancer and its origin, except in all his explorations the doctor didn’t find any other cancer anywhere. That sounds great… But this mass 99% likely was a metastasis from a primary source. That source could be lurking microscopically in any number of different places.
We were informed that if he expected to end up a positive statistic, he'd need at least seven weeks of radiation therapy and adjuvant chemotherapy. His regimen isintensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) on a broad field because of the unknown primary. They radiate everything and hope they hit the original source.
During this time, Eric had more days at doctor appointments than days at work in the weeks between surgery and the start of therapy. Every single doctor on the team needed a consultation, then a planning or teaching session, then their individual preparatory procedures. He began daily radiation treatments and weekly chemo on May 13.
Even though the doctors would have excused him from work immediately if he had said he wasn’t up to it, Eric wanted to keep working as long as possible.He needed to work as long as possible for financial reasons. While the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) should protect his job security during his time off, during the early weeks of diagnosis, surgery, and recovery he exhausted his limited amount of allowable paid Personal Time Off. All that is left is to work or rely on Short Term Disability (STD), which only pays 67% of his normal pay and only for 12 weeks.
Combining radiation and chemo is brutal. And Eric managed to work only two weeks before he couldn’t make it through the workday anymore. The 12 weeks of STD are going to go fast since the doctors have said to expect anywhere from 2-6 months after the end of treatment to recover.
Everyone expects nausea, hair loss and overwhelming exhaustion from chemo and radiation. What we didn't expect was a severely painful throat, internal blisters and sores, and difficulty swallowing which means he needs tube feeding for all his nutrition for the next few months. It's crazy but the medically necessary and very expensive "liquid nutrition" somehow isn't covered by insurance.
On top of this expense, we're faced with a catastrophic deductible before the insurance covers anything. And then, the insurance plan year changed over in the middle of treatment, May 1, and that means we need to once again meet that $10,000 deductible. Add to that, there are all sorts of added expenses: non-covered bills for over the counter meds, bathroom improvements, gas for medical appointments, and special dietary needs. Meanwhile, we are trying to get by on 67% of his pay, knowing that there is a distinct probability that income will dry up before Eric is healthy enough to return to work.
As if the cut in pay combined with meeting the deductible at the worst possible time weren’t enough, when it rains, it pours. We’ve also experienced unexpected household repairs (furnace, hot water, air conditioning, vacuum, bathtub leaking through kitchen ceiling, aluminum siding repairs, dehumidifier, washing machine). Needless to say, the small savings we had worked so hard to establish has been wiped out.
Because the short sale on our old house ravaged our credit rating and we would not be able to recover again, it would be disastrous to become unable to pay our bills.
Putting our pride aside, we are asking friends, loved ones, and strangers to help us us weather this difficult time financially. As much as it pains us to ask for help, we need help. We know many of you are also experiencing financial straits, and we wouldn’t ask if we didn’t feel we have to.
But the reality is, we have to. At this point, medical bills total over $17,000 and we’ve yet to see a bill from chemo or radiation. Eric will end up needing several thousand dollars of dental work before this is all over on top of PET scans and continuing follow up care, just for starters. Meanwhile, the Short Term Disability payments will not even cover our regular monthly expenses.
No donation is too small. All will be gratefully appreciated.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.