By Elayne Smith Lowe



Santa Fe New Mexican

Living Logistics

Sonya Pierce — the program manager for the Legal, Insurance and Paperwork Assistance Program at Cancer Services of New Mexico — wants cancer patients and their caregivers to know they don’t have to navigate financial challenges or tackle confusing government forms on their own. “There’s a big network out there to get them help,” she said. “They’re not alone.” Between 2007 to 2013, cancer patients, on average, had annual costs of $43,516 for initial care, $5,518 for continuing care and $109,727 for the last year of life, according to the Cancer Trends Data Report. “They definitely need to get onto some kind of medical program that will help defer the cost of cancer treatment,” Pierce advised. The first step, she said, should be talking with their patient navigator. Pierce encourages patients to use their cancer care team, not only to discuss medical concerns but also to identify any resources they may need for other issues, such as offsetting housing costs or getting rides to treatment. For many patients, cancer-related costs can stretch beyond what some nonprofits or programs can offer in short-term relief. That’s when Pierce can step in by helping them apply for Social Security and disability benefits. If someone doesn’t understand the qualifications for these programs, she can help sort it out with the U.S. Social Security Administration or Medicaid. “We work with other agencies, so we know what’s out there,” Pierce said. “It’s a pretty streamlined process.” Pierce can get on the phone and walk a patient through the applications step by step. If a patient doesn’t have a computer, she can do the necessary online work. The biggest obstacle, she said, is time. It can take months after submitting the appropriate applications to receive checks, so it’s better to start sooner than later. “It’s definitely a waiting game.” Cancer Services of New Mexico lists the various statewide programs and resources it provides on its website, Pierce noted that LIPA also offers a 13-tab organizing tool to help keep all cancer-related paperwork, from appointment notes to financial assistance applications, in order. The treatment organizer is free and available to cancer patients upon request. For more information, call Sonya Pierce at 505-999-9764 or e-mail “I’m passionate about what I do and am happy that I can offer some solace during this difficult time for a family. It’s not necessarily a one-time call. In some cases, I’ve continued to navigate off and on with the same patient as new issues arise. I encourage anyone who isn’t finding help or assistance elsewhere to contact me and the LIPA program so that we might see what we can do for you.”