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Breast cancer takes financial toll on Hawaii patients


By Kristen Consillio

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    Hawaii (KITV) — Since 44-year-old Rui Sasaki was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2019, she said she racked up nearly $20,000 in medical bills alone.

She’s been furloughed since March 2020 due to the pandemic and was forced to use credit cards and take out a loan to pay her bills.

“It’s like a double whammy when you’re struggling to try to figure out how to pay for everything and deal with the emotional everything that comes with being sick and what’s happening,” she said. “It’s detrimental.

The financial hardship of cancer patients can be enormous. That’s why Breast Cancer Hawaii opened the Care Closet — short for Community Access to Reusable Equipment.

The idea is to help cancer patients with personal items that they may not readily have or can afford such as wigs, hats, pillows and specialty clothes.

Now that she’s done with her own chemotherapy, radiation and double mastectomy — and knows first hand the financial hardship cancer patients face — she’s donating her own hats, specially-made button down shirts and other support items to other patients in need.

Breast Cancer Hawaii President and Co-founder Joanne Hayashi herself was diagnosed in 2015 with breast cancer at age 33. She runs the Care Closet.

“You see the hair loss, you can see if somebody is losing weight or gaining weight, but that financial toll is really kind of this hidden part that people don’t realize is there,” she said. “This is already on top of the physical toll, the emotional toll of facing your own mortality and then the harsh treatments getting you sick.”

Hayashi said going through cancer treatment can take up to a year, with many patients needing to take time off from work — often unpaid.

“The average out-of-pocket they were spending was almost $900 that they were spending on various equipment.”

What makes the Care Closet so special is that it stays open because of women with a passion for helping other women. And what they know is that the closet is never full because there is always a need.

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