For families dealing with a child who has cancer, the financial burden can be overwhelming. One NFL legend is changing that with his foundation to help families.
As an eighth-grader, Magen Cabrera was just starting to learn about childhood cancers in science class. She’d only recently heard the word “leukemia” for the first time while watching the ABC Family show Chasing Life, in which the lead character is diagnosed with the cancer.
"I knew what it meant, but when they told me-- my mind was blank. I didn't know what to say," the New Jersey native told FoxNews.com.
Nine months ago, at just 13 years old, Magen was diagnosed with acute-lymphoblastic leukemia, also known as ALL.
ALL is a cancer of the bone marrow and blood and is the most common type of childhood cancer. Even though cure rates are high --around 80 to 90 percent-- it is a fast-growing cancer that requires immediate treatment.
Most treatment plans take about two to three years to complete and include several phases of chemotherapy. Magen is in her sixth phase and has not returned to school since her diagnosis.
"My husband and I, as well as my mother, we don't go to work when she's home,” Magen’s mother, Maryann Cabrera, told FoxNews.com.
The two of them take turns accompanying their daughter; since January, neither has worked a full week.
Most parents of children with cancer struggle and stress about the financial health of their household and especially when one adult endures a loss of income from time off from work. A study in the journal Pain and Symptom Management found that 94 percent of parents reported they cut back on hours, quit a job or sacrificed overtime because of their child’s illness.
Families of children with cancer often face many out-of-pocket medical and non-medical expenses which can include co-pays, pain management, mental health services, genetic testing and travel and lodging expenses. A 2004 report estimated that the total medical costs of treatment for children with leukemia or central nervous system tumors was around $89,000 for children who survived, and $236,000 for those who died.
Although mounting medical bills and changes to their household income left the Cabrera's in financial turmoil, their luck soon changed when a hospital social worker introduced them to the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides financial and emotional support to families battling childhood cancer.
"We’ve granted over six million dollars to families who have children with cancer and we help people in every possible way, whether it be mortgages, whether it be grocery bills, gas bills-- you name it," Tom Coughlin, the Founder of The Jay Fund and coach of the New York Giants told FoxNews.com.
The Jay Fund was started in honor of Jay McGillis, a young athlete who passed away from leukemia when he played for Coughlin at Boston College in 1992. Coughlin was a regular visitor at McGillis’ hospital bedside and witnessed, firsthand, the impact a family goes through when their child is sick.
“It was a crushing blow to the family and as strong as they tried to appear it was most difficult because people would stop working, the expenses would continue to arise-- cancer is an expensive, expensive disease,” Coughlin said.
In addition to grants for household expenses, the foundation recently added a financial coach to their team to help families get back on track.
"Most families need help getting an understanding of what their own finances are, they don't really know how much money they spend every single week and every single month," Robert VanLangen C.P.A, the financial coach for The Jay Fund, told FoxNews.com.
One of the best ways to track where you spend your money is to use automated programs like Mint or Quicken, VanLangen said. If you’re not computer literate or don’t feel comfortable with utilizing these types of tools, manually record where your money is going to on a weekly or monthly basis, he added.
“We try to make sure that when the parents are with the child it’s positive and it’s a good thing, and they’re able to not only put on a strong face, a confident face, but that they mean it,” Coughlin said.
Vanlangen sits down with families like the Cabreras to educate them on how to best manage their household finances and plan for the future.
“Once I get my arms around their entire financial situation, I also find out that the biggest raise I can get some of them is to change their withholdings,” Vanlangen said. “Changing your withholdings to facilitate you having more cash on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis is a big plus.”
Throughout the year The Jay Fund and the New York Giants host special events for families tackling childhood cancer so they can have a day without bills or blood tests --- a day where they can just have fun.
At this year’s Sundae Blitz event, families got to take a VIP tour of the Giants training facility and spend time with Coughlin and some of the team’s players.
“That experience was just so much fun for them,” Cabrera, who attended the soiree with Magen and her sister Adriana, said. “It was like for a whole two to three weeks after it there was no talk of your treatment or cancer, it was just ‘How was it?’, and ‘It was so much fun,’ and that was very uplifting at that point-- it was like you just forgot she was sick.”
Even though Magen faces more cancer treatment in her future, with the love and support from her family and new football friends, she knows she can handle the challenge.
“It’s hard at first but you know what you’re going through is going to make you stronger,” she said. “And you know you're going to be [stronger] for the rest of your life.”
For more information visit TCJayFund.org.