Organization helps blood cancer patients with financial burden

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Mary Scott


At 28 years of age, Christina Perkins had a lot of living left to do. She was graduating with a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee, getting married and starting her career as a social worker.

Doctors told her that a swollen lymph node in her neck, which wouldn’t go away, was likely caused by stress. Eight months and rounds of antibiotics later, she decided to go to a specialist.

The doctor gave her more antibiotics on that visit but also said he needed to tell her about something it could be.

He said, ‘This is not likely, but this is what it could be.’ He explains to me what the lymphomas are. And I’m like, ‘OK. That’s cancer, right?’ I had no idea what lymphoma was. And he says, Yeah, it’s cancer in your lymph nodes, but let’s not go there until we need to,” Christina said.

After the antibiotics once again failed to work, she had a biopsy. She was in the car when she got a call from her doctor.

“He said, ‘Remember the really bad thing that we talked about?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘It’s that.’ I said, ‘Are you telling me over the phone right now that I have cancer?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you do,'” she said.

After a few more tests, Christina learned she had stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“I said, ‘Aren’t there only four? Only four stages?’ They said, “Yes. So I didn’t know what to do with that,'” said Christina.

Because she had just started a new job, her insurance did not kick in right away. Thousands of dollars in medical bills started piling up.

“My oncologist was not willing to wait. I said, ‘Can we please wait?’ He said, ‘No, we can’t,'” she said.

She didn’t learn until after her insurance returned that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society offers financial help to patients who qualify through a co-pay assistance program and travel grants.

Christina said the co-pay assistance has been helpful as she continues to return to the doctor often for follow-ups. It only requires a patient pay one co-pay a month while LLS covers any other co-pays.

“That took so much of the burden off. Even just coming up with one $40 a month, rather than 3 or 4,” Christina said.

The co-pay assistance program pays up to $10,000 a year for blood cancer patient’s premiums– depending on the diagnosis.

“Last year, the Tennessee chapter (of LLS) gave $1.3 million to patients across Tennessee through co-pay assistance or annual grants,” said Lori Friel with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Twelve rounds of chemo later, Christina’s scans are coming back clean.

She takes time to volunteer with LLS by speaking, helping with events, and fundraising.

“The bulk of our volunteers are mostly survivors like Christina and the others. It’s a way for them to have some control over their cancer,” Freil said.

The Light the Night Walk, an annual fundraiser for LLS, proved to be especially moving for Christina last year.

“I just remember being on the walk and I just cried the entire time,” she said, “They hold lanterns during the walk… I was just so proud to get to have a white lantern.”

The white lantern symbolizes the survivors.

She’s giving back because she knows what it’s like to be unsure emotionally and financially when faced with a cancer diagnosis. She wants others to know there’s help out there.

The Knoxville Light the Night Walk is raising money for the the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. The bulk of the funds raised go to research for treatment and the rest covers the co-pay assistance program and travel grants.

Light the Night Walk

  • Thursday, Oct. 22
  • 5:30 p.m.
  • Circle Park on UT Campus

According to LLS, nearly every three minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer.