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Breaking Bad, Breaking Childhood Cancer and Breaking the Bank

by Peter on August 28, 2014

The hit series Breaking Bad won 5 Emmys for 2014 and I’ll be honest I didn’t know the plot or how large the following it was until I started doing a little research. Fresh Air on NPR aired a passed interview with it’s lead Bryan Cranston which gave me a lot of insight into the series.

For those, like me, who didn’t know the short of it is this.

Chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is diagnosed with an inoperable lung cancer. To secure his family’s financial future, before his death, he turns to a life of crime, producing and selling methamphetamine.

Knowing AMC and the life that meth brings, I think the violence would be more than I want to handle. Although, I’m not going to watch it the series does bring to light the reality of the financial burden a family goes through when a child is diagnosed with cancer. It is a catastrophic event. When a child is diagnosed with cancer all the family’s emotional, physical and financial resources are invested into whatever it takes for their child to beat cancer. Nothing goes untested or untried.

As a result, finances are drained which can cause marital strain. Siblings oftentimes see themselves as secondary only to receive the leftover parental love. This can lead to jealousy because the health siblings are know as the one who has a brother or sister with cancer. It doesn’t take long for that jealousy to fester into resentment. Parents thus have to not only manage dwindling finances, the care and treatment schedule of their sick child but now must manage the behavior of disobedient and despondent healthy sons and daughters. The proverbial straw that months ago could have been easily shooed away now threatens to not only break the camel’s back but also it’s four legs and neck.

I want to make one side note that I’m going to revisit and that during a pungent scene (I am the one who knocks) Walter’s wife reminds him that he can’t quit his day job because they don’t have the money otherwise.

Since financial stress keeps most parents up at night I want to give a little insight into the financial stress that a childhood cancer diagnosis brings to a family. This, of course, is an example since every family has different deductibles and premiums. If a family has insurance with a deductible of $5000.00 and a monthly premium of 400.00 (4,800.00 yearly) then that family must pay at least $9,800.00 in a year before they can use their insurance. But that’s not all. Once they do meet their 5,000.00 deductible their health insurance will most likely pay 70% – 80% of the hospital bill. So if the hospital bill after the deductible for the year is $50,000, which is on the low end, and health insurance paying 70% ($35,000.00) then then family would be responsible for $15,000.00 for the year.

So let’s put all the numbers together. $15,000 plus 4,800 (yearly premium) plus $5,000 (deductible) equals $24,800. That’s almost $480.00 per week a family must earn so that their child can be treated for cancer. This does not take into account other related out-of-pocket expenses including gas to travel to doctor appointments, time away from work, travel and lodging for treatment out of state.

Walter White as a teacher represents the average man. He may have emergency savings but he doesn’t have enough to pay $24,800 a year. And if it takes 8 years for a child to go into remission then the cost would be almost $200,000 that family would have to earn above their cost of living.

Money raised from childhood cancer research has changed the landscape within the community in the past 20 years. Each year more and more children are overcoming cancer because of the advancement in medical technology and medicine. This also results in fewer years and months of treatment which creates less out-of-pocket expenses for families.

Foundations like St. Baldricks Foundation  and Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research raise money to fund grants for childhood cancer research.









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