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Cancer patient seeks government's help

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Last February, a law was enacted creating the Guam Cancer Trust Fund.  The money was supposed to come from the Healthy Futures Fund to be given to non-profit and charitable organizations to help provide cancer screenings, treatment and support services for those in the community who needed it most.

But a year later, the money is sitting in a bank account while residents like Ryan Reyes are fighting for their lives.

In 2006 Ryan Reyes' life changed forever. "I found out I had a little lump on my neck and then over the years it just started getting bigger and bigger and that's when I went in and got it checked and did my biopsy and they told me what it was," he explained. Reyes was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma - a cancer of the lymph tissue found in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver, and bone marrow.

After receiving treatment he was told he would need to go off-island for radiation, which wasn't offered on the island at the time.  Because of the significant costs associated with radiation therapy he couldn't go and the cancer spread. Two weeks ago, Reyes was referred to the City of Hope in Los Angeles, California to receive high doses of chemotherapy along with a stem cell transplant. "Every second counts," Reyes said. "Right now, in my situation, being Stage 4 I really don't know how long that is."

Receiving chemo three times a week makes it difficult for Reyes to hold a job and have insurance.  While he's on Medicaid, he just learned today that it won't cover the stem cell transplant he so desperately needs. He thought the Government of Guam, through the Department of Public Health, could provide some help but instead he hit a dead end. "They told me that my transplant treatment they will not be able to cover that. I got to pay that out of pocket and they asked me if I had the money to pay it and I said no I don't have the money to pay that," he said. "So they told me that they can't do anything about it. That's all they told me."

He added, "I really don't know what to do anymore. I don't know where to turn no more."

Reyes went to Healthcare Committee chairman Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr., hoping he could help. "Apparently, Ryan is the first case they've seen for a stem cell transplant," the freshman policymaker told KUAM News. "That's why Medicaid and MIP doesn't cover it. But it shouldn't end there. The alternative for public assistance not covering it should not be then you're on your own."

A law was actually enacted last year that set aside money in a Guam Cancer Trust Fund - specifically aimed to help people like Reyes. The only problem is that Public Law 30-80 has never taken effect, which means $1.4 million is just sitting in a bank account while cancer patients like Reyes fight for their lives.

Senator Rodriguez says the rules and regulations were only submitted in February and are set to take effect on May 4. "Even if we had the Cancer Trust Fund set up today, we're not sure whether that's going to cover his $100,000 treatment for stem cell transplant," the senator added. "I think what needs to be done is we talk to these providers, non profits and see what exactly are the services, where the gaps are, that's where we need to make sure to provide for our people."

The law requires that the University of Guam administer the money in the Guam Cancer Trust Fund and allocate 75% of those funds to non-profit and charitable organizations to provide cancer screenings, treatment and support services.  But until the law is fully implemented, cancer patients like Reyes wait anxiously wondering if they'll still be alive by the time the government starts taking action.

"I'm just scared basically right now," he shared. "I just wish that they could help the people who really need the help."

Acting Public Health Director Jim Gillan meanwhile tells KUAM News he is aware of Reyes' situation and says he will discuss the possibility of getting him out to the states to get the high doses of chemotherapy because that portion would be covered by Medicaid. As for assistance with the cost for the stem cell transplant, Gillan says it's something Reyes will have to get from the community.

For those who would like to help Reyes, you can contact Senator Rodriguez's office for information.

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