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Drug costs make cancer battle more than 1 fight for Turbeville couple

Woman advocates for bill in D.C. to lower costs of husband’s meds

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 3/16/18

William Driggers' cancer medications are so expensive - and vital to his survival - that he and his wife may have to sell his family farm to keep affording them. Even that may only give him another year and a half of covering costs, and still even …

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Drug costs make cancer battle more than 1 fight for Turbeville couple

Woman advocates for bill in D.C. to lower costs of husband’s meds

Lisa Driggers is seen with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, in Washington, D.C., this month. She traveled to ask her senators to support the CREATES Act, which would help lower the cost of her husband's cancer medications.
Lisa Driggers is seen with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, in Washington, D.C., this month. She traveled to ask her senators to support the CREATES Act, which would help lower the cost of her husband's cancer medications.
PHOTO PROVIDED
Posted

William Driggers' cancer medications are so expensive - and vital to his survival - that he and his wife may have to sell his family farm to keep affording them. Even that may only give him another year and a half of covering costs, and still even if he survives after that, the Driggers couple would be left with nothing.

Lisa Driggers recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to urge her senators to support the CREATES Act, legislation introduced to Congress in 2017 that would lower the cost of her husband's cancer medicine from $13,000 a year.

"I think we made progress," Driggers said. "We have a very small farm, and our house is paid for, but some people are like 'why don't you sell your farm?'

"We both worked our entire lives for this."

William Driggers grew up on the property where they still live. This is the second marriage for them both. Neither of them has kids - human kids, that is.

"October will be 14 years," Lisa Driggers said. "It's just us and our two Chihuahuas and one cat."

Since Poncho, Jabbo and Oscar can't help pay the bills, they get help from organizations such as the American Cancer Society. They have some stocks they've been cashing in and savings to dip into.

On Sept. 20, 2010, William Driggers thought he was having a heart attack. After going to the hospital, seeing a doctor, another doctor, a neurosurgeon and a cancer specialist in just a few days, he began 18 days of chemotherapy for multiple myeloma, a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells that grow into more than one tumor usually in a bone.

"He's been on chemo every day of his life since," Lisa Driggers said. "It's been horrible, to say the least."

A doctor in Boston wrote his drug regimen - he takes Celgene's products - on which he has been doing better than expected. He was not given this much time. He's now 65.

The lifetime risk of getting multiple myeloma is 1 in 143, or .7 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. The organization estimates about 30,770 new cases will be diagnosed and about 12,770 deaths to occur in 2018.

The financial aspect of paying for the prescription drugs - and they're both on disability - is crippling.

But not having access to them is a matter of life and death.

During the winter storm at the beginning of this year, shipping delivery of his medicine was delayed by five days.

"I wonder some days what that five days did to him," Driggers said. "I don't want anybody ever to have my journey."

Thousands, though, are on a similar journey. Loved ones caring for husbands, wives, parents, children, siblings with terminal cancer where not taking medication is not an option but affording it may sometimes also be as unrealistic.

"We have data that shows that 85 percent of voters nationwide think lowering the price of prescription drugs should be a legislative priority," said Ben Wakana, executive director of Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, the nonprofit that flew Driggers to D.C. to talk with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, and staff in Sen. Lindsey Graham's, R-SC, office. "Drug companies are ripping people off, and they don't care what part of the country you're in, what your income is, who you voted for. All they care about is making money for their stockholders."

The nonprofit advocates for the CREATES Act and, with Lisa Driggers' help, is asking that Scott and Graham add their names to the bills - both a House and Senate bill proposed in the act have bipartisan support.

CREATES would stop big drug companies from blocking competition by refusing to allow their brand-name drugs to be used in testing needed to get approval for generic competitors, according to the agency. If passed, people would get access to lower-priced generic prescription drugs faster.

The pro-free market measure would save taxpayers an estimated $3.8 billion, according to independent experts, and enjoys broad bipartisan support. Recently, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, and Rand Paul, R-KY, added their support by cosponsoring the legislation along with Patrick Leahy, D-VT; Chuck Grassley, R-IA; Mike Lee, R-UT); Amy Klobuchar, D-MN; John McCain, R-AZ; and Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, among others.

The pharmaceutical lobby spent $25 million last year and continues to oppose the CREATES Act despite calls from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, Freedom Works and the Heritage Foundation to pass the bill.

Lisa Driggers said she knows her husband may not get the help he needs in time through this legislation, but advocacy and awareness has to start somewhere. And maybe it can help at least one person down the road.

She certainly never thought this is where life would take her.

"Once he said, 'I want you to think about something. If we divorce, I will qualify for more assistance,'" she said. "And he said no one ever has to know that we are divorced. I said that is not an option. I took my vows, and I took them seriously, and I just am not ever going to do that. God has provided so far."