After her hair has grown back and the burns of her radiation scars have healed, Natanya Mallin will face another crushing challenge – a mountain of medical bills.
Mallin, a 27-year-old who grew up in Durango and graduated from Fort Lewis College, has Stage 4 synovial sarcoma, a rare cancer that has spawned tumors across her back, chest, pelvis and lungs. She has been in and out of the hospital for surgeries, radiation therapies and chemotherapy since March.
Mallin hasn’t received the wave of hospital bills yet, but her best guess is that her medical treatment is reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It’s hard. You survive something like this, and you’re in debt for something you feel like you don’t have any part in causing,” Mallin said. “You just have to figure out how to handle it.”
For the 13.7 million people who have been diagnosed with cancer in the United States, the staggering costs to treat the disease are expected to continue climbing. A study by the National Cancer Institute estimated that medical expenditures for cancer could increase up to 66 percent to $207 billion by the year 2020 if newly developed tools for cancer diagnosis, treatment and follow-up continue to be more expensive.
Faced with this grim outlook of mounting medical bills, community fundraisers are a ray of financial and emotional light for Mallin and others battling cancer.
A fundraiser held for Susan James, a local woman who just a year ago was diagnosed with Stage 4 thyroid cancer, was a force that helped her turn a corner, James said.
“It was like, ‘Buck up, Susan, you need to walk with your head held high through this journey. Look at all the people who are walking with you,’” James said.
And while she wouldn’t say exactly how much the fundraiser helped, she said the money took a lot off her shoulders financially.
Mallin’s friends and family are hoping to offer her that same financial gift with a fundraiser Sunday that includes a silent auction and music at Ska Brewing Co.
It’s one of dozens of fundraisers the brewery hosts each year, said Kristen Muraro, the brewery’s marketing manager. Cancer-related causes account for up to 40 percent of Ska’s fundraisers – just one small indicator of the disease’s monumental costs.
Steamworks gets donation requests weekly, and sometimes even daily, for various causes, owner Kris Oyler said, though he couldn’t pinpoint how many of those were related to cancer fundraising.
Mallin’s friends have been meeting weekly for a month and a half to organize the Ska fundraiser, which will be the third event they have held for Mallin. Her supporters also are pursuing online venues like Go Fund Me and the flash charity campaigns organized by theChive, a photo entertainment website, to raise money. The funds will go toward the approximately 30 percent of treatment costs that Mallin’s insurance plan doesn’t cover and the cost of alternative therapies.
The family isn’t drowning in medical costs yet, Mallin said, “but the wave will come in soon.”