BUDDY CHECK 6: Free legal help for cancer patients

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RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- Lorraine Meekins is feeling much better since a huge weight was lifted from her shoulders.

She can now focus on her leukemia treatment.

“I wasn’t eating because I was worrying too much,” said Lorraine.  “My friend said ‘you’re not eating because you’re worrying about her too much.’ “

Lorraine  was worrying about her granddaughter whom she’s raised since she was four years old.

She wondered who would care for her and make sure she fulfilled her dreams if Lorraine no longer could?  Lorraine was among the thousands of cancer patients who needed legal help, but couldn’t afford it.

Many of those patients are unaware that free legal help is available. Medical-legal partnerships have existed for a long time, but for the first time in Virginia, a cancer center has such help available at the hospital.

Allison Held is an attorney and volunteer with the Richmond Cancer Advocacy Team or RCAT, a  new medical-legal partnership with an office at the Massey Cancer Center.  Held says her team has gotten an incredible response from Massey staff and patients.

Lawyers with three organizations, LINC, The Legal Aid Justice Center, and  Central Virginia Legal Aid  Society provide free legal advice and assistance to cancer patients who are struggling with job, housing or insurance issues.  That includes wills, power of attorney, and  guardianship, which Lorraine needed.

“We know that if we can alleviate those stressors in people’s lives then they can focus on getting well,” said Held.

Held says those stressors can interfere with a patient’s ability to get treatment and how they respond to it.

Connie Macalusco is one of the social workers who connects a patient with an attorney. She says it’s rewarding to help people like Lorraine.

“I can’t describe the feeling,” said Macalusco. “It’s a good feeling in that I’ve played a small role in helping that patient resolve an issue that was hanging over their heads or making their treatment more difficult.”

Lorraine says their help made big difference in her health.

“I would be in the same predicament and I think I would be sicker,” said Lorraine.  “I don’t think I would be feeling the way I feel now.”

The Massey Cancer Center is the first cancer center in the state to have free legal help in house.

The RCAT  lawyers are available Tuesday and Friday from 10 to 2 in room G-064.

Call Connie Macaluso at the Massey Cancer Center, 804-628-2106.