Patient Spotlight: An Artist Living With Metastatic Breast Cancer

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For decades, 83-year-old Phyllis lived an excitingly nomadic and creative life. Born in Hong Kong to missionaries and having spent her childhood in China, India, Burma, and England, Phyllis quickly became a citizen of the world.

She eventually settled into a career working as a human relations specialist and manager for a Fortune 500 company in the United States, and married and became a mother to four children.

Now in retirement, Phyllis spends her days as a professional artist working in oils, acrylics and collage, and supporting her local art gallery. During this time in October 2012, she was surprised after years of “amazingly good health,” when she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

At first, Phyllis’s health insurance plan covered almost all her out-of-pocket costs. However, as stronger medications were recommended, Phyllis could not afford the expensive co-pays. The stress became overwhelming.

“I had visions, when all this happened, of losing our home and not knowing how to survive elsewhere,” she says. Phyllis was also worried about her husband and how their financial stress might affect his health. She feared that they would be unable to keep their car for travel to her medical appointments, and she didn’t know what to do about her beloved rescue dogs.

Eventually, Phyllis reached out to her hospital’s patient relations manager to learn about what financial options were available. “He eased my fears by referring me to a patient financial advocate, a lovely lady who immediately contacted my oncologist and together, they called PAN,” she recalls.

The application process was painless, and when Phyllis learned she was approved for a grant that would cover a year of co-pays for her treatment, she was overwhelmed with emotion.

“I cried with relief, and slept well for the first night in ages. In my heart I blessed all the wonderful donors who have given to this organization. Once PAN stepped in, it was like being reborn.”

Today, Phyllis credits PAN with saving her life. “I could not have afforded these expensive pills without giving up our home,” she says.

With the continued support of a PAN grant, Phyllis is still on treatment and her artwork remains at the center of her life. She continues to maintain her art studio and sell her art. Her doctor even encouraged her to focus on her art during treatment because it reduced stress and brought her joy. “He followed my website, and he and his wife even bought some of my paintings for their home,” she said.

She shares her sense of hope and the importance of going forward with newly-diagnosed cancer patients she meets.

“Never give up," she says. "Hope is the engine that drives the soul.”