Record gas prices a financial burden for Yakima families seeking cancer treatment in Seattle

YAKIMA, Wash. — Some people are cutting back on travel to save money as gas prices continue to soar, but that’s not an option for Yakima residents needing medical treatment they can’t get near home.

Kenneth Leach was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019 and has to travel with his wife, NiColle, to Seattle for treatment at least three times a month. He said each trip costs them about $120 in gas, which is about $20 to $30 more than they were paying last year.

“And then with gas going up, the price of food, the price of everything goes up, so it’s just that much more expensive,” Leach said.

That’s an added financial burden the family doesn’t need; due to his medical condition, Leach hasn’t been able to work for three years and his wife had to quit her job to care for him when he needed a bone marrow transplant.

“I’m partially blind, I can’t see out of one eye; I had a cornea transplant. It didn’t work,” Leach said.

Leach has a low immune system due to the cancer, so when he came down with COVID-19, the complications hit him hard. He spent 16 weeks hospitalized in Seattle and ended up with scarred lungs, which are only back up to about 60% capacity.

“I get tired and take naps every day,” Leach said. “It’s pretty pitiful, but it’s life now and that’s what we’re dealing with.”

With four kids — two of them still living at home — expensive medical bills, expenses for traveling to appointments across the state and no income between them, Leach said they’ve had to use almost all of their retirement savings to make ends meet.

“We’re still trying to get disability to go through because the doctors won’t approve me to go back to work,” Leach said.

Leach said one of his biggest pet peeves is the lack of assistance available for adults with cancer, in comparison to the resources available to families whose children have cancer.

Leach said while there are programs available to help pay for the cost of medical housing for families whose children are cancer patients, similar assistance isn’t readily available for adults.

At one point, Leach was stuck transferring back and forth between being hospitalized in Seattle or staying in medical housing for a total of nine months — costing him $720 a week.

“And then, my wife had to stay with me and take care of me,” Leach said. “Luckily, my mother-in-law came up and took care of my kids, but we still had to pay our bills.”

Leach said he’s not a “pity party person” and believes there are people out there who are in worse situations and that his situation could always be worse; what gets him through it all is his faith in God.

Back when he was at work, Leach used to tell his friends that when they feel they’re really low in a valley in the middle of a storm, life is going to get better and you’re going to get through it. He said that applies in this situation.

“I mean, the economy’s up and down all the time and gas prices are up and down all the time too, so hopefully they will drop back down and make it easier for people,” Leach said.

KAPP-KVEW reached out to Governor Jay Inslee’s office to see what the state plans to do to help families struggling with rising gas prices and if there are any plans to suspend Washington’s gas tax, but received no response Wednesday.

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