Fighting a life-threatening illness isn’t easy, and soaring medical expenses compound the stress.
Jackson local Rikki Blair, 45, is battling pancreatic cancer with everything she’s got. But each appointment in Salt Lake City for surgery or at St. John’s Medical Center for chemotherapy is taking its toll in more ways than one.
“I haven’t even opened one bill yet, because I can’t focus on that yet,” Blair said. “That’s a stress I don’t need right now. I have a packet full of bills I haven’t even touched. That’s the biggest, daunting thing.”
One of the reasons she loves Jackson, Blair said, is how much support she’s felt during this challenging time. A fundraiser at the Elks Lodge on Friday is another opportunity for the community to rally around her. Blair hopes to be there, she said, but it depends how much chemotherapy she has this week and how she’s feeling.
The fundraiser, organized by friend Gaylene Trisler, begins at 5 p.m. at Jackson Hole Elks Lodge No. 1713. There will be a silent auction, a desert auction, raffles and a hair station where you can shave your head to look like Blair. Her friend Rochelle Gonoe, a massage therapist, played a big role in collecting donations, including services like massages.
If you can’t make it but still want to support Blair and her 10-year-old son, Braxton, you can donate on a GoFundMe page Trisler set up to help the family with medical and living expenses. Blair had to stop working at Verizon in April.
She joins many Jacksonites who find the cost of health care in the United States, with or without insurance, unbearable without help. As of press time just over $6,000 had been raised.
“The financial support will keep me afloat,” Blair said. “I haven’t worked for four months, so bills are obviously coming in. I’ve got really good insurance. I’m hitting all my deductibles, but there’s no way I’m going to be able to pay any of this off without the support.”
Thankfully, Blair said, her boss has been “absolutely phenomenal,” donating to her GoFundMe and being very understanding of her situation.
Blair said the past few months have been a blur. On April 24 she was on vacation with her son and nephew when she had major stomach pain and was unable to drink or eat much. After an emergency room visit in Las Vegas, she was diagnosed with pancreatitis.
After visits with local doctors Marti Mason and Michael Rosenberg, trips to Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, a failed endoscopy and, eventually, surgery to take out her spleen, Blair was given bad news. On May 24 a biopsy confirmed Blair had cancer.
“It was pretty horrible, waiting,” she said.
Blair has been undergoing rounds of chemotherapy since June 7 in hope of reducing the tumor. Side effects put her into the intensive care unit on June 15 for over a week. Her blood counts dropped to a dangerous level and she developed two infections
Doctors are now changing the treatment plan because tests show the tumor is growing.
In the meantime Blair is trying to stay strong for Braxton.
“My son is very intelligent and a very smart kid, so I can’t skirt around the subject whatsoever,” she said. “He knows not to look at the internet because it’s really scary, but watching me wilt away is not his ideal thing. We don’t talk about the fact that I could definitely be gone soon.”
Blair got choked up.
“He always says, ‘It’ll be OK, Mom,’” she said. “‘It’ll be OK.’”