Trinidad Luevano’s life changed shortly after her annual checkup last November.
For a follow-up, she went in for her mammogram on Dec. 3. It would be the third mammogram in her life.
The next afternoon, she received a phone call asking her to return for a more extensive diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound.
“That was really scary. I was really freaked out at that point,” Luevano said.
She soon got an appointment at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion in Grand Rapids.
A week later, she sat around the table with her care team. She had stage 1 cancer and her tumor was about 1 centimeter. Testing revealed it was hormone receptor-positive cancer.
On Jan. 18, she underwent a lumpectomy to remove the tumor. Four weeks of daily radiation treatments followed.
A little over six months after surgery, she met with Jayne Paulson, MD, and received instructions to get a follow-up mammogram in December. She would start on Tamoxifen, a medication used to treat hormone receptor-positive breast cancer.
Dr. Paulson said Luevano’s case was caught early and treated. And she’s thankful Luevano’s care team met her medical needs, as well helping with some of her other needs.
“We cannot forget that there’s the whole social aspect that goes with it,” Dr. Paulson said. “This is a very hard, emotional, scary journey to go through.”
Luevano had felt scared, of course, about her diagnosis and treatment.
But she also had another big worry on her mind when she had learned her diagnosis.
“When I heard cancer, I heard all this money,” Luevano said. “My mind was just racing at that point. How am I going to afford all this?”
Thankfully, her care team knew she was not alone in this concern.
“Financial considerations for cancer patients are one of the greatest worries they have,” said Geralyn Roobol, Spectrum Health director of cancer services. “Some even worry more about that, (more) than, ‘Am I going to survive this cancer?’”
When Luevano sat down for the first time with her care team at the Breast Multispecialty Team Consultation Clinic, she felt relieved to be surrounded by doctors, including a radiation oncologist, breast surgeon, medical oncologist, as well as a team member from genetics—and a social worker.
The Breast Multispecialty Team Consultation Clinic is one of the programs offered to eligible patients within the Spectrum Health Cancer Center Breast Care Program.
“It was so nice because she came in and gave me peace of mind,” Luevano said. “She put me at ease.”
Along with providing comfort, Susan Kain, a social worker for Spectrum Health Cancer Services, gave Luevano some paperwork to fill out—applications for grant money to help with the financial burdens of her cancer diagnosis.
In the end, Luevano received nearly $3,000 in cash grants.
She also received an American Cancer Society grant to cover lodging at a Hampton Inn in Grand Rapids during her treatment. That saved her the 90-minute-plus drive to and from her home in Ludington for radiation treatments.
“I cannot express the appreciation I have for that,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
She received grants from Susan G. Komen and Share A Smile. Medicaid covered her medical bills.
“If I wouldn’t have had this opportunity with Susan, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Luevano said. “I wondered what kind of hardship it was going to be, what else was going to be added on to that. We wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Time with family
Luevano’s husband of 33 years, Armando, walked with her throughout her journey.
They have four grown children and three grandchildren. It was scary for all of them.
“She’s always been the strong one,” Armando said.
Luevano has worked for 17 years as a client services representative in a seasonal position, as well as another seasonal job.
Her diagnosis came right before tax season, her busiest time. She was able to go to work on weekends to catch up.
“My boss just said, ‘Don’t worry. You go get better,’” Luevano said.
Roobol said the process of learning about a patient’s financial needs—and other needs—starts with a social worker like Kain.
Patients can also receive help from a nurse navigator or a new position at the cancer center, called a financial navigator.
“We try to identify any barriers that might interfere with a patient’s care,” Roobol said. “If there are financial strains, there are a number of external organizations that do have funds available for different needs.
“I am very proud of the team we have at Lemmen-Holton,” Roobol said. “We are able to wrap our arms around the whole person.”
Luevano said she remains grateful and she’s looking forward to much more time with her grandchildren, spoiling them with treats, including her special homemade tortillas.
She also offers an important message to other cancer patients who might be worried about money.
“Help is out there,” she said.