Laurel Hillerson-Spear was diagnosed with Stage IV Colorectal Cancer on May 29th, 2014 at the age of 32. Due to the amount of metastasis, doctors have little hope for a cure and gave her a limited and terminal diagnosis. She will leave behind her loving partner, Steve, and her beautiful young daughter, Fiona.
Laurel is a life-long member of the Santa Cruz community, and has resided in San Lorenzo Valley since 2009. She has worked in mental health and homeless services since 2005. She currently works at the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz as a Community Outreach and Development Coordinator for their Community Connection Program. She is also an active volunteer, currently giving her time to the Colon Cancer Alliance as a buddy for newly diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and to WomenCare, a local cancer support organization for women with all cancers.
Laurel has always been an advocate and a voice for social change and social justice. Her fighting spirit and sense of humor has served her well thus far on her cancer journey, as she has undergone four surgeries, multiple rounds of chemotherapy, and radiation treatment.
Medical Bills and Systemic Barriers
Laurel’s medical care averages over a million dollars each year. Thankfully she has insurance through work and is only responsible for a fraction of what her treatment costs. However, her fraction is still significant and remains a significant financial struggle for a family just trying to maintain their life with minimal interruption.
Laurel’s treatment has depleted both the family savings and the money raised during the GoFundMe campaign after she was first diagnosed. In addition to medical copayment and deductible bills, Laurel spends approximately $200 per month on prescription co-payments. The family also pays for therapy for Fiona, which is not covered by insurance. Laurel has generously been granted free or low cost therapeutic, chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture, but there are still some costs. Laurel has had to reduce her work hours and has taken a position with fewer responsibilities, so that she is able to maintain her rigorous treatment schedule. This has resulted in an 80% reduction in the family income.
She is ineligible for government safety-net services due to a 27-month waiting period for Medicare (after passing a rigorous evaluation period), which is supposed to support individuals with a disability, and Steve’s income prohibits her from getting Covered California, and his company doesn’t cover any dependent insurance, including Fiona’s, which they pay for monthly out of pocket. Steve and Laurel actually considered divorcing to remove this barrier, but then Steve will be ineligible to receive Laurel’s social security, which he will need in order to maintain the home after Laurel passes. Financial issues, insurance denials, and roadblocks have made it impossible for the family to keep up with the financial realities of living with a terminal diagnosis.
While balancing cancer treatment, surgery, medical appointments, work, and Fiona’s needs has been doable, more recently Laurel has struggled with her ever-growing limitations from extended chemotherapy treatment, opioid pain medication fatigue, and surgical recovery. Simply put: treatment effects are mounting as Laurel continues with chemotherapy for life. She has endured five major surgeries in less than 1.5 years, and the effects are limiting Laurel’s ability to carry on with daily life, including supporting Fiona’s need for normalcy.
Although the extended family is local, they are not close enough to assume the daily responsibilities of caring for Fiona so that Steve can continue to work. Steve is working hard for the family, often leaving for work before 6AM and returning after 7PM, so that the impact of Laurel’s lowered income is lessened. The family has made cuts to unnecessary expenses and lives a modest life, while still trying to plan fun family activities, when able. Laurel has handled transporting Fiona to and from school, meal preparation, and after school activities, but the family is preparing for the day when Laurel will no longer be able to regularly do these activities; the family expects they will need to hire help for support, as Laurel’s health declines.
Asking for Help
Laurel and Steve are asking for your support to help lessen the impact of Laurel’s significant reduction in income, mounting medical co-payments, and inevitable future needs for more hired supports. All funds raised will go directly to supporting the needs of the family. Any and all potential excess funds will be used to support other local families battling serious illness or to fund programs that financially support adults with young children who are battling a terminal diagnosis. The Hillerson-Spear family is committed to using every dollar for critical needs, not extra activities.
Laurel’s only wish is that Fiona have minimal trauma after Laurel dies. The family feels strongly that this includes keeping the family home, staying in her local community, staying involved in extra-curricular activities, and having a circle of support through established caregivers and helpers who maintain the basic structure of the family. Please help support Laurel’s wishes and contribute to this cause using PayPal; any amount will help. Thank you!
For continued updates, please visit Laurel's CaringBridge site: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/laurelhillerson-spear