After losing his own father to cancer, Tom realized how hard it was for cancer patients to get to their treatments. So, in 2012, when Tom got the chance to voluntarily drive patients to appointments, he signed up.
For eight years, Tom volunteered, dedicating his retirement years to helping others. When appointments lasted a few hours, Tom waited at a nearby coffee shop and read. For all-day infusions, he’d drop patients off, head home, then pick them up again. Tom happily drove strangers as far as an hour away and loved it so much, he continued even when he moved to a different state.
“My father died of cancer so I knew how hard treatment could be,” Tom says. “I also wanted to do something that directly helped people, and I met the most amazing people.”
Then, in October 2020, the tables turned. Tom was diagnosed with brain cancer, a rare and fast-moving lymphoma. After months of grueling treatments, his cancer went into remission. One year later, a small spot returned. Having exhausted local treatments, Tom’s best shot at survival was a clinical trial – across the country in Boston. The travel would be arduous and expensive. Tom and his wife, Dona, would have to drive two hours to St. Louis; catch a flight to Boston; Uber to a hotel; stay overnight; get treatment; return to the airport; and fly home.
He says it felt impossible: “We’re retired living off a small pension and fixed income. We live modestly so flying to Boston, getting hotels and transportation — that was all so daunting.”
Luckily, Tom’s doctors knew about an organization that could help: Lazarex Cancer Foundation. Founded by Dana Dornsife, who lost her brother-in-law to cancer, Lazarex is the only public charity in the country that helps people find and reach lifesaving clinical trials. Lazarex steps in where insurance companies won’t, reimbursing patients for up to 100% of travel costs.
With help from Lazarex, Tom secured his spot in the clinical trial and was able to get there. Tom and his wife began traveling to Boston every three weeks, with Lazarex reimbursing them for each trip. After months of exhausting trips and treatments, the trials began to work, shrinking Tom’s tumor. Today, Tom is doing so well, he’s back to many of his old activities, including some volunteer work. He says he has Lazarex to thank. “Lazarex is a lifesaver. We couldn’t do this without them. They make it possible and give me the opportunity to get the best treatment possible and a chance to give back.”
Now, Tom has big plans, including getting back to driving cancer patients. And he’s armed with one more tool to help them: his firsthand experience with Lazarex. He’s determined to spread the word, so others know the foundation is there to help.
“I know I’m going to get through this,” Tom says through tears. “I believe I can handle this and help others. I want people to know that the financial burden of cancer can be extreme, and I can see how some people would forgo proper treatment because it’s hard. But there are people and organizations willing to help. And I want more people to be aware of them.”