Political Notebook

34-year federal employee on missing cancer treatment during shutdown: ‘This is my life’

The government shutdown affects this IRS employee’s livelihood

Chris DeLeon works for the IRS in Fresno and has stage 4 cancer. He worries that the government shutdown will not allow him to receive treatment.
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Chris DeLeon works for the IRS in Fresno and has stage 4 cancer. He worries that the government shutdown will not allow him to receive treatment.

UPDATE: DeLeon contacted The Bee several hours after this story first published and indicated a courier had delivered his benefits package Tuesday evening. He plans to receive his treatment Wednesday as scheduled.

Chris DeLeon feels a financial sting of unpaid furlough familiar to hundreds of thousands of his fellow government employees as the partial federal shutdown stretches into its fourth week. But the stakes are higher for the 53-year-old IRS employee.

His health is at risk. And, perhaps, his survival.

DeLeon, who lives in Clovis, has stage four cancer. It began as kidney cancer in 2016 and soon spread to his pelvis. His left kidney was removed in August, but his pelvic mass was inoperable. He has received drug treatments – first a daily pill, and now intravenous care administered by his oncologist every three weeks through a port in his chest.

He’s due to receive his next IV treatment on Wednesday, but a slowdown in the processing of his routine insurance paperwork could keep him from receiving his medicine.

DeLeon said he learned last year the insurance provider he has used through his Internal Revenue Service coverage would no longer be operating in the Fresno area. He found a new provider under his employment plan that would allow him to keep his primary care physician and his oncologist, and he filed the necessary paperwork during open enrollment in November.

His new benefits were due to start on Jan. 6. But due to the shutdown, DeLeon said, he was not paid and subsequently learned his new coverage had not taken effect.

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Chris DeLeon, an IRS worker who has had his cancer treatments disrupted due to the government shutdown, sits in his Old Town Clovis home on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

A phone call on Tuesday by The Bee to the IRS media line was not immediately returned. The office of Rep. Devin Nunes, whose district DeLeon lives in, did not respond to a request for comment.

DeLeon said he contacted the IRS, but he has not heard anything back. He cannot access his work computer, which contains all of his email records and entry to online portals for employee information.

“Not being able to pay your bills is one thing,” DeLeon said, “but this is my life.”

He considered undergoing treatment without insurance coverage, but ultimately decided against it due to prohibitive costs.

“The drug I was on before, it was $10,250 for a 30-day supply if you didn’t have insurance,” DeLeon said. “This is a new IV treatment I am getting, so I have no idea what it would cost.”

His treatment was complicated last year by a bout of diverticulitis that required part of his colon be removed. He also had hernia surgery, which has limited his ability to stand for long periods or move around.

DeLeon said he is not yet experiencing any major money problems, but he will should the shutdown continue for more than a few months – something he expects, given the apparent impasse between President Donald Trump and the U.S. House of Representatives.

“No one is saying, ‘I’m being evicted, but I’m OK with it because I want a wall,’” DeLeon said. ”It’s not just one way or another. The government needs to work. Every IRS employee I know wants to go back to work. Most think the shutdown is a waste.”

He may look for another job, though he doubts he will find one that can accommodate his health issues.

DeLeon, who started working at the IRS as a 19-year-old, said he was eager to return to work. He praised his supervisors and coworkers. They’ve offered support during his treatment and surgeries, which have forced him to miss significant work time.

He enjoys his job as a customer service representative at the IRS’ downtown Fresno location, he said, and has felt an intense boredom while sitting at home during the shutdown.

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Chris DeLeon, an IRS worker who has had his cancer treatments disrupted due to the government shutdown, stands outside his Old Town Clovis home on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

DeLeon has remained optimistic about his treatment, which he said has shown positive results. He eagerly waits by his mailbox each day hoping to receive a packet detailing his new insurance information.

His brother and sister have helped DeLeon, who is single, during his treatment. His brother has carried the load in caring for their elderly parents, while his sister drives him to every appointment.

But there are tough decisions ahead. When asked if he had consulted his doctor about the repercussions of missing his treatments, he said he had not.

“That’s a very good question,” DeLeon said. “We will have to bring that up.”

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Rory Appleton is a fourth-generation Fresnan who covers politics for his hometown newspaper. A Fresno State graduate, he has won six first-place California News Publishers Association awards and a McClatchy President’s Award for his reporting and column writing over the last two years.


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