Oct 03, 2022 11:00 AM

Read time: 3 minutes

Author: Heather Simonsen

Gary and Matt Canham at a University of Utah football game
Gary and Matt Canham at a University of Utah football game

When Matt Canham was sorting through his grandfather’s belongings, he noticed some leftover cancer medicine. They were in perfect condition, sealed in the original packaging, and had been stored properly. Canham knew how expensive these medications were and that his grandfather, Gary, would have wanted them to go to someone in need.

Gary had been diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer when he was 80. The drugs were working and keeping the cancer at bay, but he ultimately passed away from other causes last December.

Gary was a big University of Utah football fan and served in the U.S. Navy. He and his grandson had been very close. Matt, who lives in Seattle, wanted to honor his grandfather’s legacy. “Having a close relative pass is really hard and you go through a lot of different emotions,” he says. “You want the loss to matter.” That meant doing what he could to help someone less fortunate.

Gary Canham holding two cupcakes with candles that say 80 on them
Gary Canham on his 80th birthday

Matt donated the unused medicine in his grandfather’s honor to the pharmacy at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. A licensed pharmacist and pharmacy technician carefully reviewed strict standards to make sure they were still viable. Then, pharmacy staff gave them to a patient who couldn’t afford them through the state’s Charitable Prescription Drug Recycling Program.

Two years ago, the Utah State Legislature expanded eligibility for the program, allowing patients or family members of patients to give leftover, unused medicine to a physician’s office or pharmacy. The medicine goes to cancer patients who are uninsured, on Medicare or Medicaid, or who have private insurance but can’t pay. But there hadn’t been an organized effort to put the law into use for cancer patients until recently.

The need is great, with 61% of cancer patients and survivors finding it difficult to afford their care, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. Oral chemotherapy medicine can cost $5,000-$10,000 a month.

“For Medicare patients with a 20% copay, that’s $2,000 a month,” says Scott Silverstein, MS, director of pharmacy at Huntsman Cancer Institute and adjunct assistant professor of pharmacotherapy at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “Most people can’t afford that. Some patients mortgage their homes to pay for cancer drugs. It’s devastating to watch,” he adds.

Silverstein organized efforts at Huntsman Cancer Institute. So far, they’ve helped dozens of patients, and he’s looking forward to assisting more. “It’s part of the culture at Huntsman Cancer Institute. Everyone is so giving,” Silverstein says. “We don’t want to waste the medications.”

Easing that burden aligned perfectly with Canham’s grandfather’s ideals. “He grew up at time where there were some economic hardships,” he says. “It shaped how he dealt with things. If something has value, you use it. You don’t just throw things away.”

It was also cathartic and healing for Canham as he grieved a difficult loss. “Donating the drugs would have been the first thing he thought of, that these should go to someone in need,” he says.

For more information about the program, call the Huntsman Cancer Institute pharmacy at (801) 585-0172.

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