For a Front Royal doctor, cancer treatment leads to fundraising

Dr. Floyd "Tripp" Bradd stands inside an exam room at Skyline Family Practice in Front Royal. Bradd, who was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS - also, called myelodysplasia) in March 2017, will receive a bone marrow transplant on March 9 from his daughter. Rich Cooley/Daily

Floyd “Tripp” Bradd hadn’t been feeling quite right for some time before he went to his doctor in March 2017. A former Division I swimmer at Duke University, the Front Royal family practice physician started noticing in 2014 that his swims across the Chesapeake Bay were becoming more difficult.

“I’ve been doing open water swims for a long time, and that was my 10th crossing of the Chesapeake Bay, where I realized how hard it was,” Bradd said. “And I thought, ‘That was strange.’ And as I got more tired and achy, my wife insisted that I get checked.”

At the doctor’s office, Bradd learned that he had a relative of leukemia called myelodysplastic syndrome.

Now, he is part of a large cadre of people taking cancer medication  — and paying for its high price.

In the 11 months since his diagnosis, Bradd, 64, has dealt with many of the trappings that cancer patients across the country, especially those who have rare diseases like myelodysplastic syndrome, deal with.

He has tried to continue doing as much work as he can. He consults with some patients remotely through an increasingly common practice known as telehealth. He’s continued to teach Sunday School with his wife Jan Bradd. He even continued working as the team physician for Warren County’s two high school football teams in the fall.

“That was hard this past football season, doing the [chemotherapy] and going to football camp,” Bradd said.

But in the midst of that work, he has had to deal with the high cost of receiving cancer treatment in the United States.

He has traveled to Johns Hopkins University to receive bone marrow biopsies, because they have a specialized bone marrow program. He has to prepare for the time he will take off from work and the income he will lose as a result. And he has had to pay some of the high costs of the drugs.

Without insurance, Bradd said the monthly cost of one of his pills, Idhifa, is $28,000.

“As a joke, if that (vial) ever goes down the drain, I’m going to go get after it,” he said.

On top of that, his wife, who works as a nurse manager at Skyline Family Practice, will be taking time to stay with him while he recovers.

In order to help pay for the costs, Bradd set up a fundraiser on the crowdsourcing site GoFundMe in order to help pay for the costs.

Cancer treatments like Bradd’s often come with exceptionally high costs, commonly leaving patients struggling financially as they try to battle a vicious disease.

Syed Yousuf Zafar, an associate professor of medicine and public policy at the Duke Cancer Institute, said that even patients with insurance and higher incomes can get caught up in the high costs of cancer care.

“One thing I’ve learned is that unfortunately, income often has little to do with whether or not patients experience the financial toxicity of cancer treatment,” Zafar said. “More often than not, it has to do with the insurance coverage and the extent of the treatment.”

Cancer patients have especially high costs, in part because of the high costs of cancer drugs.

“Cancer drugs are some of the most expensive treatments that we have today,” Zafar said. “And cancer drug prices have increased exponentially over the past couple decades.”

Meanwhile, cancer drugs themselves have improved, allowing patients to take the drugs for a longer period than they have been able to do in the past.

That leaves patients paying far higher costs for cancer treatment than other treatments. According to a January 2016 article in the health policy journal Health Affairs, one-third of cancer patients went into debt paying for their treatment.

Zafar has researched how high costs can affect the treatment and experience cancer patients have as they combat the disease, looking into a particular measure called financial distress. That measure can show the financial impact high costs can have on patients, even if the patients never go into debt.

“You think about that doctor in your community,” Zafar said. “Most people would say, ‘This is a physician; why is a physician that has an income that is guaranteed to be higher than the median income in the U.S. having to start a GoFundMe?’ Well, that’s where financial distress comes into play, [because] patients can experience a tremendous amount of distress as the result of medical bills even if they have a high income.”

Bradd described the process of dealing with the payments as one more part of the “ups and downs of this whole process.” The process has left him feeling blessed by the support and prayers that his patients and friends have given him.

“The response on the GoFundMe site has been very heartening,” Bradd said. “And helpful, of course. And so, I’ve been very pleased.”

He also found out that his daughter is able to be the donor for his stem cell transplant.

But the disease has also left him feeling the physical and financial strain that so many patients go through.

“I’ve found the same journey that many cancer patients have been through,” Bradd said. “And the family goes through the same thing; it’s just a tough thing for sure.”