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Briarwood woman beats back cancer

Mavis Martin is fighting her cancer head-on after a helping hand from state health officials. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

A 27-year-old Briarwood woman diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer last month was left to fend for herself in an insurance black hole before state health care providers steered her toward a Queens facility and saved her from an uncertain future.

In early June, New York University graduate Mavis Martin was hunting for employment in a recovering economy, trying to visualize the future ahead of her, and like many young adults in the city not exactly stressing over her lack of health insurance.

But that changed when she found a strange lump in one of her armpits and went to see a doctor. Then another. On June 5 she was told she had a rapidly expanding cancerous tumor and needed immediate treatment.

“So, maybe you should check again. Because I’m 27 and my life should be about going out on dates and finding employment,” Martin recalled thinking. “But everything changed very quickly.”

Martin did not have the money to pay out-of-pocket for treatment. She had aged out of her parent’s insurance just months before, and the unemployment benefits she was collecting did not make her a likely candidate for Medicaid.

“I went to a counselor for insurance,” Martin recalled. “She actually said, ‘Well, you are in that niche of people who can’t be helped.’”

To say the clock was ticking would be an understatement.

Martin applied for Medicaid anyway and was told she would need to wait two weeks to see if she qualified. After five days, she called to check on her status. They did not even have her in the system, Martin said.

But the next phone call may have saved her life.

She decided to try the offices of a state program she was not even sure still existed — the Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program. Terri Campbell picked up the phone in Albany, and after hearing Martin’s plight, sprang into action.

“This was the first time that we had some hope,” Martin said.

Campbell confirmed what others had been saying: Martin would not qualify for Medicaid, but she was a perfect candidate for the state program.

Campbell called New York Hospital Queens, a Flushing facility that works with Albany, and spoke with Jacqueline Xouris and Holly Frampton, who were just as eager to get Martin urgent care.

The 27-year-old hopped on a bus and was soon sitting down with two hospital representatives who spent hours poring over her situation.

“For the first time in the whole process, there was someone who was looking at us as more than just a case or a number,” Martin said, recalling that a glimmer of hope began to take shape.

By the end of the day, the three women had Martin enrolled in the program.

“After many e-mails, phone calls, faxes and teamwork, we achieved the impossible [and unprecedented] by having a completed application within hours of our client’s arrival,” Xouris wrote in a June 13 letter to the state Department of Health.

Martin is now starting her second round of chemotherapy, and her tumor is 80 percent smaller.

“To say that I was saved by the program is not to put it lightly,” she said. “Without the medical attention I’ve gotten this far, I wouldn’t be where I am today, which is on my way to be a cancer survivor. I don’t know where I would be.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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