Matt, 41, colon cancer, with his wife Yi

The St. Jude’s Controversy: A Look at Why Family Reach Welcomed the Spotlight on the Financial Reality of Cancer

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“When a household name like St. Jude put the issue that Family Reach sees every day out to the masses, it felt like someone handed me a megaphone and said ‘here’s your chance to show the world what cancer really does to a family’ — so I took it,” said Carla Tardif, CEO of Family Reach.

Through that metaphorical megaphone, Carla shared the financial reality of cancer that Family Reach has been living and breathing for more than 25 years. While the ProPublica article, “St. Jude Hoards Billions While Many of Its Families Drain Their Savings,” focused on funding and patient support issues specific to the well-known childhood cancer support organization, we noticed something else. We know that the fear, bankruptcy, and overwhelming stress that accompanies a cancer diagnosis is not a new problem and it’s also not one that’s unique to St. Jude.

Published in Cancer Health, and both print and digital versions of The Tennessean, Carla’s Op-Ed continued to expose the harsh financial side of cancer that has been ignored for far too long.

Shining a light on the financial reality of cancer

The full story of cancer includes a dark financial side that society at large tends to dramatically overlook. In reality, the many costs of cancer have a significant influence on a patient’s ability to access care and adhere to treatment plans.

For Carla and the Family Reach team, uncovering this dark side means asking what the smiling and hopeful St. Jude families experience when they leave the hospital. Who is paying for their housing while they spend most of their time in a hospital room? How can they work when they’re by their child’s side? Where is the income going to come from now that there are added out-of-pocket expenses to access care? What is the ripple effect of the many costs of cancer on their entire family?

“You have to be brave to look at the human suffering side of cancer and the ProPublica article opened a lot of eyes,” Carla said. “My goal in writing the Op-Ed was to say now that you know, don’t stop there. Let’s move into action and do something about this together. Family Reach has been waiting for you to join us for 25 years.”

Leaning into anger as a call-to-action

Anger is both a connecting theme and an impactful tone throughout the Op-Ed, as Carla encourages people to embrace the emotion that lets you know something is important to you and allow it to inspire action.

Carla admits that she gets angry on a daily basis when she hears the stories about what the families her organization serves are going through, though she’s quick to turn it into “fuel that feeds passion to create widespread change.”

“I’m not an angry person, actually,” Carla continued. “I’m very positive and I believe in the power of collaboration and innovation to solve really big problems. Someone once described me by saying ‘she didn’t know it couldn’t be done, so she went ahead and did it!’ That’s how I lead Family Reach.”

Building momentum around the financial side of cancer

While the ProPublica article sparked outrage, change will only happen if more people refuse to turn their backs on the cracks in the cancer care system that need fixing.

To date, this problem has yet to gain the amount of consistent traction and attention that solving it will require. While it’s clear how the many costs of cancer can negatively affect patient outcomes, Family Reach is the only nationwide organization that provides free wrap-around financial services to patients of all ages and cancer types.

We believe in a future where every family can heal without worrying about money, and getting there requires a groundswell of action.

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Affordability of Cancer Care: Breaking Down Cost Barriers to Treatment Through Collaboration

“Family Reach is driven by people who believe that this isn’t charity, it’s humanity,” Carla shared. “Humanity is about identifying with someone else’s situation, feeling their pain, and walking a mile in their shoes with them because that is the only way to stop the injustice. Family Reach is willing to show up, day after day. We are here to tell the hard stories and to inspire action with our proven solutions.”

Along with the Financial Treatment Program, Family Reach is actively piloting ways to improve program delivery and collaborate with other organizations to have the most profound impact on the cancer landscape. The sooner we include financial health in cancer treatment plans, the closer we’ll be to completely addressing the non-medical needs of the cancer community.

“I’m hopeful the momentum to pull back the curtain on the non-medical side of cancer continues,” Carla said. “We need thousands more stories like the ProPublica one so people will start to understand that this exact story is in every nook and cranny of this country.”

Join us in making Family Reach and organizations likes ours the household names that demand attention and action. Together, we will change the financial reality of cancer.

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Stevie Snow
Senior Creative and Brand Manager • Family Reach Team

Always walking the fine line between her right and left brain, Stevie brings her creative and strategic thinking to her role as Senior Creative and Brand Manager. Her work amplifies Family Reach’s voice and brings attention to the financial impacts of a cancer diagnosis.

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