Listen to HER2: Diagnosis Brought ‘Hurricane of Life,’ Including Financial Distress

August 9, 2017

Jamie Philippe was diagnosed with stage IIIB hormone receptor-positive, HER2-positive breast cancer in 2014, at age 29. For Listen to HER2, Jamie writes about the financial difficulties she’s experienced because of breast cancer.

My name is Jamie and I am a breast cancer survivor. When I was diagnosed I immediately thought that my life was over. I was not even 30 and thought “This is not how my life is supposed to be right now.” You see, I was a very independent person. I had been on my own for almost 4 years. I had my own apartment, car, and worked two jobs. I was very proud of the woman I was becoming.

After my diagnosis, I was determined to keep my life the same. Little did I know that the effects of chemo had an entirely different plan for me. I was so much more weak and sick then I thought I would be and that is how my life shattered. I was forced to stop working and at that time my employer did not have a disability plan. My company was based in Philadelphia and I had always worked in New Jersey, so I was able to qualify for disability in New Jersey. I was also given information from my nurse navigator about different grants I could apply for. I thought I would be totally fine with keeping up with my lifestyle. If I only knew ahead of time the “hurricane of life” that was about to give me a huge reality check. The grants I was applying for were extremely difficult to get. It was a huge paper project that I unfortunately had to dump on my mom because I was either too sick or in the hospital from chemo.

Applying for disability was a lot harder because I was not going through an employer. By the time I saw any amount of money I was evicted from my apartment, living with my parents, and my car was repossessed. All I could think of was, “How did I get here?” This was not the plan I had made for myself when I found out I was sick. What happened to my plan? I did not recognize the person that I was. I took pride in not depending on my parents and being able to help them if they needed help.

I started to receive bills from the cancer center. I was without health insurance for a short time due to all the financial limbo I was in. Just seeing the cost for chemo, medications, and shots to keep me in medical menopause was indescribable. I couldn’t comprehend the life I was living and the situation I was in. No one tells you the things you will have to sacrifice. No one tells you the financial burdens that you will endure. No one tells you that you will lose everything and must go back to depending on Mommy and Daddy.

Things started to brighten up a little. The company I was working for pleaded for me to attend their Christmas party. I received an envelope full of money from a collection that was done for me, I had a check with 2 weeks’ worth of pay from two employees giving me a week each of their vacation time, and my employer agreed to pay for my health insurance until I got approved for a grant. I was so overwhelmed by their sweet and generous gestures I thought I would be OK. After months of paperwork, emails, phone calls, and just stress I finally started to receive my disability payments. It wasn’t too long after that I finally got word that I would have my health insurance covered from grant money. I should be happy right? But because of the lapse in insurance I had thousands of dollars’ worth of bills that I was apparently responsible for. I had to go through a lot of hoops to resubmit claims through my insurance to get things covered.

After 6 months, my disability unfortunately ran out and I had to return to work after going through six rounds of chemo and a double mastectomy. I felt OK being back to work, but soon had another reality check. I had to endure another four rounds of chemo after pathology results weren’t good. I also had to work through my radiation treatment as well. As tired as I was, as sick as I was, and no matter how much pain I was in I could not afford to be unemployed. My company worked with me as far as scheduling, but all I wanted to do was be at home resting. Today I am a survivor. I have been in remission for the past year-and-a–half. I have a new car, and I’m in a new home with my parents.

Things are still quite difficult. I am back to working full-time, but I have a ton of medical bills and just debt in general that I must take care of before I can be back on my own again. I know one day soon I will be back on my own and living my own way, like before cancer came and brought the “hurricane of life” my way.

I would say to other patients that they should start applying for financial help immediately because it is a very lengthy and time-consuming process. I wish I had an idea of the timing process for disability and grant money approval. Then I could have tried to make arrangements for certain things so that I didn't lose everything in the blink of an eye.

Jamie is 32 years old. She lives with her parents in Pine Hill, New Jersey and works as an ophthalmic tech at a private practice in Philadelphia. Read more Listen to HER2 stories here.


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