Mercury News, Peninsula Section

Families Can

 

By Heather Driscoll

Wave Magazine, Spotlight

October 2009

 

A Silicon Valley foundation helps cancer patients seek financial relief


 

Colleen Lloyd gazes into the distance with glossy eyes and clenched lips, absorbed in her thoughts. Her fatigued body rests in a chair, her head sporting a red bandanna to mask the effects of chemotherapy. She wipes away the few tears running down her cheek and calmly says, "When I think about dying, I just
think about my kids, to not see them get married or meet my grandkids. I fear the grieving process they'll go through, and how it will change them as people. I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm afraid of that.

 

Lloyd, a 49-year-old single mother of three, is battling breast cancer. After two surgeries and multiple rounds of chemotherapy, the cancer has spread to her chest wall, lungs, liver and now her bones. I wish I knew what the years were - one, five, 10," she says.

 

First diagnosed in 2001, Lloyd endured a year of chemotherapy and later went through breast reconstruction surgery. She remained in remission for five years, until Oct 2007 when she received the devastating news that her cancer was back in full force. Since then she has been going through endless cycles of chemo, spending up to nine hours a day at the hospital, waiting for her luck to change.

 

"I'm told this is it, this is my life," says Lloyd. "And the only way I'll go off treatment is if my body can't handle it anymore or if the tumors shrink enough to where I can take a break."

But this is not Lloyd's only battle. Since the cancer began in 2001, the Santa Clara mother has had an ongoing struggle with finances. The medical bills have drained her of money that normally goes to rent, credit cards, gas and food. "You hear about these people on the edge of becoming homeless, I feel it wouldn't take much for me to be there," she says. When first diagnosed, Lloyd took medical leave from her job at Digital Records, now known as Acusis, and currently works from home when she can, barely making ends meet.

 

Enter FamiliesCAN, a foundation that helps cancer-stricken families in Silicon Valley pay the bills. Lloyd met Eduarda Francisco, FamiliesCAN program director, when she initially started treatment eight years ago. Since then, the los Altos-based nonprofit has helped Lloyd pay I her rent and provided her with grocery and gas gift cards. "They're so special to me,” says Lloyd."We've kept in contact over the years, and when I was re-diagnosed, they were there to help."

 

FamiliesCAN was founded by Jackie Whittier Kubicka in 2000 after liver cancer threatened her husband, Bruce Kubicka. Her personal experience inspired her to develop this unique program with the assistance of her father, former Intel executive Ronald Whittier, whose foundation fully funds FamiliesCAN. The program has I since helped hundreds of families foot the vital payments of rent and mortgage for a couple of months or so, and help hire baby sitters, pay for groceries, utility bills and even car payments.  The folks at FamiliesCAN have also paid for vacations, set up concerts and sponsored various counseling programs and camps for kids.

 

Rick Crosby, a 53-year-old husband and father of two, was in stage 4B (the final stage) of his Hodgkin's lymphoma when he first learned of FamiliesCAN. After an X-ray confirmed his prognosis in June 2006, Crosby was forced to go on disability while enduring months of aggressive chemotherapy treatment at Standford Medical Center. His wife, Giuliana, also stopped working as a teacher at the Women's Correctional Facility at Elmwood to care for her husband and two young boys, Joey and Nico. Essentially, the Crosbys had very little income. In stepped FamiliesCAN, who paid for three months worth of groceries and two car payments.

 

Nearly three years later and still in remission, Crosby reflects on his battle. "It was hell," he says. On top of losing 40 pounds, feeling extremely nauseated and being plagued with constant fevers, he also had the hiccups for 21 days straight. "It was depressing at times," he says. "But the hardest part was seeing my wife and kids affected by all of it."

Fortunately, the San Jose family was introduced to two programs sponsored by FamiliesCAN that would help their kids immensely: Kids Konnected, a counseling program, and Camp Kesem, an annual retreat held at Standford for children of cancer patients. "The key is not to withdraw from the world," says Francisco.  At Kids Konnected they get to learn about cancer and talk about how they feel. It helps children deal with what's going on at home in a very healthy way.”

 

 Because of foundations like FamiliesCAN, life is made a little easier for families going through unthinkable crisis. "There’s a lot of resources out there that people don't know about," says Crosby. "You just got to find the people that will help you tap into them."