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Staying Healthy: Lazarex gives cancer patients options

Danville foundation helps cancer patients find and pay for clinical trials

Danville's Lazarex Cancer Foundation knows that having a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer is a challenging crisis that can only be exacerbated when the patient hears "there is nothing more we can do" -- or worse, "there is something we can do, but your insurance won't cover the treatment."

For individuals who have heard those phrases, the Lazarex Cancer Foundation will step in to help, armed with both financial support and a wealth of information.

Founded in 2006, Lazarex helps cancer patients and their families by informing them about potential clinical trials that can benefit not only them but the scientific community, and helping patients financially by covering travel and other expenses related to taking part in a clinical trial.

In 2018 alone, Lazarex provided financial assistance to 538 cancer patients and offered navigation guidance to an additional 118.

"When your oncologist says to you 'I'm sorry there's nothing more we can do,' we want them to be able to say 'these are your other options,'" said Karen Ambrogi, communications manager at Lazarex.

Ambrogi explained that while only 3% to 5% of eligible cancer patients participate in clinical trials -- and only 5% of participants belong to racial or ethnic minority groups -- 48% of clinical trials fail due to lack of patient enrollment, and one of the biggest contributors to these low numbers are financial barriers patients face.

"From a patient perspective, which is where I tend to live, I went through all this with my husband (Mike) 15 years ago. I went through the diagnosis of you have three months to live there's nothing more we can do for you," said Erin Miller, Lazarex's development manager.

"We ended up finding a trial ourselves with my sister (Dana Dornsife) who founded Lazarex. We found the trial and my husband (Mike) said 'no I'm not going to go because I'm not willing to spend all of my savings on a maybe' and then my family pitched in and we were able to go and he was able to live for 19 months," Miller added. "And it doesn't seem like a lot of time, but it's everything."

Mike Miller's experience with the financial strains of a cancer diagnosis led to the founding of Lazarex, as a way to help individuals and families who are going through similar challenges by reimbursing them for costs associated with travel such as cross-country flights, lodging in hotels, gas and bus fare.

But financial assistance is not all that Lazarex offers; public outreach to physicians and patients about options, and lifting barriers to improve the participation of minority populations and underserved communities are also key objectives of the foundation.

To help improve the number of people who participate in clinical trials, with a particular focus on minority populations, Lazarex has launched its IMPACT (IMproving Patient Access to Cancer Clinical Trials) program, a three-year national program that removes financial barriers to entry, improve participant retention, minority participation and recruitment.

In 2013 Lazarex partnered with Massachusetts General Hospital to conduct a three-year experimental study of the program and achieved a 29% increase in overall participation and doubled minority participation in cancer clinical trials.

"The No. 1 reason why people don't participate is because they can't afford the travel expenses to the clinical trials. So by helping medically underserved people of whatever color they may be, we tend to increase diversity just by its nature because there is a disproportionate number of minority people who are socioeconomically stressed," Miller added.

To help fund expenses associated with supporting cancer patients, Lazarex holds several fundraising events a year, with the next Treasure the Moments Gala scheduled for next Saturday (Sept. 21).

Set to be held at Livermore's Garré Vineyard & Winery, is an opportunity for people to celebrate the precious moments in life and raise funds to support Lazarex's mission to help give cancer patients as many of those precious moments as possible.

The evening will include a cocktail hour with passed hors d'oeuvres, dinner and dessert, a live auction by Damon Casatico, some of the best wines the Tri-Valley has to offer, Lazarex's signature ice luge, dancing and an inspirational message from a Lazarex patient.

"We like to bring in new people who haven't supported us before because we know there are a huge amount of people out here who have been touched by cancer just in our local community, and just sort of celebrate," Ambrogi said. "You know we have a limited time on this planet... The spirit of the gala is about treasuring moments of life and (that) every day counts."

Single tickets cost $300, or purchase a table of 10 for $3,000. To become a sponsor for the gala, individuals can contact Pam Clemmons at pclemmons@lazarex.org or 309-8665.

To learn more about the Lazarex Cancer Foundation or the Treasure the Moments Gala, visit the Lazarex website.

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