When you meet Tyronza Parker, your first impression is of a likeable, 35-year old man, one with an humble, almost shy, demeanor. Quiet, gentle, just a regular Mississippi guy in the prime of life.
Then there is the soft cough. Again and again he covers his mouth and coughs, keeping it quiet, not wanting it to be conspicuous. After a while you realize that the man is dreadfully tired, trying his best to be engaging, and that it takes considerable effort.
Then, what his doctor told you before you met Parker starts to really sink in. The man is dying, has Stage Four lung cancer, and has only weeks to live. Lung cancer, the smoker’s disease – but Ty Parker has never smoked.
He first noticed a persistent cough the fall of 2019. He went to doctor who treated him for a suspected sinus infection. The cough continued and got worse. Parker, who had made his living for many years as a diesel-engine mechanic, got too sick to work.
In February of 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic struck Mississippi, Parker learned he had lung cancer.
Michael Jones, MD, a prominent Memphis oncologist, who also treats cancer patients in north Mississippi, started treating Parker’s cancer with chemotherapy. That was 16 months ago. Jones says Parker’s lung cancer has a unique mutation that makes it difficult for him to respond to available chemotherapy agents.
“The cancer outsmarted the chemotherapy,” said Patricia Kelley, who works with Dr. Jones.
Everything they tried so far has failed. Ty Parker is getting weaker, losing his battle.
Dr. Michael Jones is one of the more prominent oncologists in the United States. He has had a long association with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, considered by many to be the top cancer treatment center in America. Jones talked with colleagues at Anderson, and also reached out to another colleague, now associated with the medical school at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill.
UNC has an experimental treatment program that could be Ty Parker’s last hope of a cure, of life. The experimental treatment program at UNC has had success treating the rare form of lung cancer that is killing this quiet Mississippian with the soft smile
“This is a new immunotherapy trial at Chapel Hill,’ said Dr. Jones. “It is curative, but toxic.”
Jones says the UNC program could give Ty Parker a chance at life, of again being able to earn a living for his wife and three children.
But there’s a catch.
When Parker got too sick to work on engines, he lost his health insurance and was forced to switch to Mississippi Medicaid.
“UNC is willing to work with us, but they refuse to take Mississippi Medicaid’s reimbursement,” said Dr. Jones.
UNC is willing to undertake Parker’s treatment and cover most of the cost of the trial immunotherapy treatment. However, Parker’s weakened condition and the impact of the treatment itself makes it likely he will have to be hospitalized at least some of the time he is being treated. Because Mississippi Medicaid will not pay for the hospitalization in North Carolina, the $50,000 cash reserve is required to cover probable hospitalization.
Medicaid has been a bitter topic of dispute in Mississippi state government during recent years. Although most of the funding to improve Medicaid coverage in Mississippi would come from the Federal government, Governors Phil Bryant and Tate Reeves and the Mississippi legislature have been strongly opposed to expanding Medicaid coverage.
Lieutenant-Governor Delbert Hosemann has indicated his willingness to consider expansion.
Even the state’s top business organization has recently signaled its interest in expanding Medicaid. The state hospital association has long favored expansion. Several Mississippi hospitals have gone broke – closed their doors – in recent years, because the state has no mechanism for funding medical care for indigent people.
Meanwhile Ty Parker and tens of thousands of other low-income Mississippians have very limited access to all forms of medical care.
Parker is among the many Mississippians with few options for getting life-saving treatment.
How many unemployed Mississippians could scrape together 50,000 cash dollars for cancer treatment, or anything else?
“I just ask God for help day to day dealing with this. My family has been there for me. Dr. Jones and his team have tried and tried to help me for more than a year,” says Parker.
Ty and Rhonda Parker and their children live in Chickasaw County, where he grew up. Rhonda Parker is a native of Union County and graduated high school at the Myrtle Attendance Center of the Union County school system.
Rhonda Parker started a “Go Fund Me” campaign for her husband in May, 2021. At the time this post was written, she has raised $3,295. However, she says contributions to the Go Fund Me effort have tapered off.
Anyone able to help relieve the overwhelming situation the Parkers face can do so by clicking this link to the Go Fund Me account.
“I’m optimistic the treatment at UNC could work for me,” says Ty Parker. “If not, my getting the treatment might help them treat the next person who has this form of cancer.”