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Providing Financial Assistance to Low-Income Cancer Patients

by No Wooden Nickels staff

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In early 2002 while working in oncology for a major hospital in the Chicago area, Lorna Khawaja would often overhear individuals discuss the challenges of traveling to the hospital to receive chemo treatments and affording daily living expenses. Performing insurance verifications for bone marrow recipients allowed her to witness the difficulty in gaining approval for potentially life-saving treatment. Later that year, her father was diagnosed with Stage II prostate cancer. Drawing upon these experiences, she realized that if insured people had so many financial issues, what happens to low-income, uninsured Americans facing cancer?

Lorna remembers, “My father always laughed and enjoyed a good joke. I later understood that this was what kept his spirits high.” After borrowing his little ditty, “Don’t take any wooden nickels,” Lorna started No Wooden Nickels, a nonprofit organization whose sole purpose is to provide indirect expense assistance to low-income cancer survivors.

“We focus on eliminating anything that impedes a cancer survivor’s ability to receive vital treatment.”

No Wooden Nickels provides financial assistance to people who are in active treatment, helping them gain access to treatment and pay for parking, meals, and living expenses, such as utilities, childcare, outstanding bills, and insurance premiums. As Lorna puts it, “We focus on eliminating anything that impedes a cancer survivor’s ability to receive vital treatment. It’s also understood that the mind-body connection is important to successful outcomes, and this is affected if there are environmental barriers. If you are receiving daily chemotherapy treatments, your body is under internal assault, and this is compounded externally when you have no electricity or gas for heating.”

No Wooden Nickels has grown rapidly in the five years it has been in existence, having served 750 recipients since 2006. Looking ahead, No Wooden Nickels will seek to expand its reach nationally as it receives hundreds of requests daily across the country. “Our services literally mean the difference between continuing treatment or not,” Lorna says. “It’s especially vital that those who are least able to afford it can receive the right kind of help while looking to win the battle of their lives.”

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For more information about No Wooden Nickels, visit or call (888) 842-2654.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2010.