Mercury News, Peninsula Section

Cancer Patients Facing Huge Bills
Get a Hand Paying for Basic Needs


By Joe Rodriguez

Mercury News, Local News

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Nonprofit FamiliesCan finds itself short of funds because the need is so great.


Trisha Faggiolly-Barrett lay still on a long table as "Sky" enveloped her from head to toe. Nicknamed by the nuclear medicine technicians at Stanford Medical Center, the huge, X·
ray-like camera is looking inside her bones for traces of cancer.

"What did I do wrong in this life to deserve this?" Faggiolly asks.


She's already lost a breast, lymph nodes, her job and private health insurance. And something immeasurably tragic: She was four months
pregnant in April 2007 when she learned she had breast cancer.


And yet, sitting later in the cafeteria, she beams with a toothy smile and a pair of happy, almond-shaped eyes. It's her husband, Oak Barrett, who looks worn
out. After she got cancer, he lost his high-tech sales job earlier this year and the family health insurance that came with it.


"Suffice it to say," Barrett deadpans, "this has been the most interesting year of my life."


VITAL SOURCE OF HELP It's been a wrenching, curious year for Jackie Whittier Kubicka, too. She founded and runs Families Can, a modest but unique program based in Los Altos that helps cancer-stricken families in Silicon Valley pay the bills and stay in their homes.


She set up the nonprofit charity nine years ago after liver cancer threatened her husband, Bruce Kubicka. He survived, but Whittier found herself almost
as overwhelmed as the less-fortunate families she met in hospital waiting rooms. She persuaded her father, former Intel executive Ron Whittier, to fund
FamiliesCan through his foundation.


The program doesn't cover astronomical medical bills like the estimated $10,000 for Faggiolly's nuclear bone scan, which was paid for by a limited Medi-Cal program for breast cancer patients. FamiliesCan is simple but varied covering such vitals as rent, mortgage or insurance payments for a month or so. It has helped hire baby sitters and
pay groceries, utility bills or car payments. The average assistance per family is about $4,000.

Families Can so far has covered the Faggiolly-Barrett's mortgage for their house in Redwood City and parking expenses at the hospital. It's sending Faggiolly on an oceanfront retreat for
women with cancer.

"We're lucky and blessed to have met them," Faggiolly says.


Whittier set up the charity to cover about 52 families per year for 20 years. The math has worked fine until now; with the troubled economy, applications jumped to 63 in 2008, with
more expected this year.


"Wow, what's going on?" Whittier wondered."Very seldom do we have to turn anybody away."


What happened was the so-called Great Recession that started in December 2007. Before that, most applicants to the foundation were employed people who became sick with cancer,

then lost their jobs and health coverage several months or even years inter. Today the order is reversed, Whittier says. She's getting more applications from people who lost their jobs
first or about the same time they got cancer.

DOWN, ALMOST OUT Scott Musladin lives in South San Jose with his wife, Candy, their young daughter, Madison. and a teenage niece, Lindsey. The couple met on the job and married in 1986.


In November. doctors discovered cancer in his stomach. When they opened him up, they found another, more vicious form of cancer in his abdomen. He would need aggressive treatment, including chemotherapy. for months.


A short time later, in February, the damage-restoration company where the couple had worked for years shut down for lack of business. Candy Musladin found part-time work, but their income dropped to about $23,000, roughly a third of what they once brought home.

'"I felt like I was down and somebody was kicking me over and over again," Scott Musladin says. "and I didn't know if it would ever stop." Fortunately, he was able
to keep his health insurance but paying ordinary expenses was another matter. In stepped FamiliesCan. The charity has covered a few months rent for their home and gave them a $600 supermarket gift card for groceries. It's sending their daughter to a camp that teaches the children of cancer patients to understand and cope with the disease.


"After a lot of crying and feeling panicked, we have peace of mind," Candy Musladin says.

But ironically. peace of mind is running out for Jackie Whittier and FamiliesCan. Its endowment took a hit in the stock market crash, and a bounce back isn't going to happen soon. The options are grim.

"We can run out of money early, cut grants or deny some applications," Whittier said. She already has canceled the charity's annual holiday dinner and replaced it with a simple
gathering over ice cream.


"It would be too hard to determine who not to fund. They are all equally needy."