JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Fighting cancer is never easy, but when it's in the middle of a pandemic it can make it even more difficult. Michele Reum knows that firsthand.
Reum found her breast cancer on Mother's Day just one month after losing her brother to throat and lung cancer.
“I was driving with my daughter, and I kept scratching my breasts, and my daughter asked me what I was doing,” Reum recalled. “It was just a little teeny, like a bug bite on the side of my boob ... is how it started, and when I first found it, it was like the end of a pen or a pencil.”
With no health insurance, she had to wait for an appointment through the health department.
“By the time I had got my biopsy, and by the time they took it out, one was as big as my thumbnail and one was as big as my fingernail,” Reum said.
She was furloughed during the pandemic and had only been back at work for a few weeks when she found the two lumps in her breast and had to quit her job.
In September, Reum had a double mastectomy. In November she expects to start chemotherapy. The cost of cancer has taken a toll on her.
“I've been denied Social Security Disability or SSI," she said. "I know there are two different kinds. I filed for both of them, and I didn't get either one. I filed for food stamps. They originally gave me $204 and then I only qualified for $16, and I couldn't get disability unemployment because I'm the one that we were I to get laid off. I left because of illness, so I have zero income."
Reum is staying positive, and because she caught her cancer early doctors say her prognosis is good. She's grateful and looking forward to the birth of her first grandchild due in January.
“They tell me it's very good," Reum said. "They tell me that I should be alive to see my daughter's baby's kids, you know my great-grandchild, as long as I do everything that they tell me to do."
She hopes other women can learn from her story.
“Please, if anything is different, even if, like I said, even if it's like a bug bite on the side go have it checked just to be safe," she warned. "It's better to be safe than to be sorry.”
When Phil Porter, the owner of Subaru of Jacksonville, who lost his sister to breast cancer, heard about Reum’s story he wanted to help. On behalf of Subaru of Jacksonville, he surprised her with a $5000 check, money she said will help pay her bills for the next four months.
“Thank you so much because this has been so hard,” Reum said fighting back tears.
It’s an act of love that she will never forget.