Cost of cancer treatment leads some to wonder if it's worth expense

Nekeisha Lewis says she contemplated whether to live in debt after racking up $465,000

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The price of medical care has created a financial burden for some patients, especially when it comes to the high cost of cancer.

Nekeisha Lewis falls under that category and shared her story about overcoming a deadly disease, only to learn that she would pay for it in another way.

Lewis said she was initially in denial because she was feeling fine.

"I'm so young," Lewis said she told herself. "How could I have cancer?"

The entrepreneur was only 26 years old when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.  

"I remember the doctor standing over my bed and confirming that I did, in fact, have cancer," she said. "It was the farthest thing from my mind. I wasn't even giving it thought that this was a possibility."

Not only was it a possibility, but it was a reality. What started out as a headache turned out to be a tumor in her head, and doctors found two other tumors in her spine, prompting an aggressive treatment plan.

"Everything was done in a rush," Lewis said. "Everything was pretty immediate and there was no consideration for, 'Can I get an understanding for how much this will cost,' because that is really what happens to you when you get diagnosed with cancer. The No. 1 thing that you are thinking about is, 'Oh my God, am I going to live or am I going to die?'"

After countless nights spent in and out of the hospital and six months of chemotherapy, with the help of cancer specialists at Memorial Regional Hospital, Lewis beat the deadly disease and is now in remission.

But for Lewis, it was almost as though overcoming one struggle meant the beginning of another.

"My current balance is $465,000," Lewis said.

Lewis' cancer treatments racked up almost a half-million dollars in debt, and one drug seemed painstakingly pricey.

"One of the interesting line items on my bill was the Neulasta drug," Lewis explained. "I saw where the initial bill was $27,000 in March of this year, and it was per injection. I'm like, 'One injection for $27,000?' That is really crazy."

The insanity didn't stop there. Another statement showed that exact same drug and dosage for more than $37,000, which is $10,000 more than the previous months. 

Lewis has created a GoFundMe page to help out with the premium prices of medicine, but with several lifetimes of debt, the 27-year-old still has a long way to go.

Her situation is one Dr. Hagop Kantarjian of the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston admits he sees far too often.

"Neulasta is only one of the examples. There are numerous examples across the board of cancer drugs and even all drugs," Kantarjian said. "The drug companies buy the competition and they raise the price of the drugs overnight. This is not something unique to one drug or another. It's a general strategy that drug companies have decided to adopt in the past 10 years."

The oncologist blames pharmaceutical companies for being greedy and making too much money by driving up the cost of drugs.

Statistics show that it can take more than a billion dollars to bring a drug to the market. With all of the ongoing research and development, one would argue that pharmaceutical companies have to offer aggressive prices for medicine to continue the development of new drugs. 

"They develop talking points about why it is necessary to have high cancer-drug prices," Kantarjian said. "The first one is, what you mentioned, that it takes a billion or $2 billion to develop a drug to the market, and when we've done our own research, it actually costs 10 percent of that."

Kantarjian also points the finger at the government for not regulating drug costs.

"We have to have a situation where 100 percent of patients with cancer can access and have the availability to use these drugs so they are treated," Kantarjian said.

Until that happens, though, patients like Lewis will continue to battle cancer's cost.

"Is it worth it? I did give literal consideration to whether or not it's worth it to live in a lifetime of debt as opposed to not being around anymore," Lewis said.

This struggle has prompted Lewis to join in on the push to help regulate cancer costs. 

To learn how to help in the fight or donate to Lewis' cancer treatment fund, visit her GoFundMe page.

Follow Shyann Malone on Twitter @ShyannMalone

Follow Local 10 News on Twitter @WPLGLocal10

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