AUSTIN (KXAN) — He served in the Army and has been an Austin police officer for six years, but Rob Brady was not prepared for the diagnosis he received this summer.
“I couldn’t go home right away,” Brady told KXAN this week. “I sat in the parking lot for like six hours literally just saying it out loud over and over and over again, just so I could practice my composure to be able to say it in front of other people.”
Prostate cancer is second only to skin cancer in frequency among men, according to the American Cancer Society. The group expects more than 174,000 people to be diagnosed with the disease this year alone, and more than 31,000 to die from it.
With a stage 2 diagnosis, 41-year-old Brady has options, and his doctors recommended removing his prostate entirely. His city of Austin health insurance plan covers most of the bills for his cancer care, but not for what comes next: Brady won’t be able to have kids naturally with his wife, Jessica, after his surgery on Oct. 4.
Before then, he’s undergoing costly fertility treatments to preserve his ability to have kids so he and Jessica can start a family when they’re ready, after his long recovery.
“It’s just a lot,” he said. “The fertility appointments, none of that’s covered” by insurance.
A change in plans
Rob and Jessica Brady got married Saturday, Sept. 14, after just two weeks of planning.
They’d been engaged for more than a year when Rob was diagnosed in July and had been saving for the wedding they wanted in the summer of 2020. Cancer changed their plans.
“All the money’s been going towards the cancer bills,” he said. Even with insurance, he has to meet out-of-pocket maximums on his plans for this year and next year, when his recovery will continue. “And the fertility bills, that’s the part that’s the most outrageous.”
Instead of the wedding they dreamed up, they decided to get married in a hurry so Jessica would have more legal standing in Rob’s medical decisions.
Vendors and friends gave them discounts or donated entirely the things they needed: a venue, food, a cake. Rob called in every favor he could, including to a photographer he knew in Dallas.
Jessica’s dress options were limited to the ones that fit off the rack because there wasn’t time for alterations. “Still, I think I lucked out,” she laughed as she looked at wedding photos with her new husband Wednesday.
“I was more concerned about not tripping and falling on my heels than I was about getting married to you,” she said.
Costs piling up
The couple’s fertility treatments will cost tens of thousands of dollars, some now for the appointments to remove and store reproductive material, and some later for either in vitro fertilization or intrauterine insemination.
The city offers three insurance plans, but none of them covers fertility treatments, meaning Rob and Jessica will have to foot the bill themselves.
Rob is not accustomed to asking for help, so at first he wanted to handle the costs himself. But with a long recovery, his go-to fundraiser — overtime at the department — won’t be possible.
“We’re looking at almost a year of not being able to work any overtime,” he said.
That’s his doctor’s recommendation: up to two months of no duty and up to nine of light-duty, meaning desk work instead of his normal patrol responsibilities. The Austin Police Department allows for up to a year of lighter work at a doctor’s recommendation, said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association, the department’s employees’ union.
Rob’s first military supervisor convinced him he needed to reach out for more help to cover costs.
APD held a fundraiser for him, Casaday said, and Cops for Charities, APA’s charitable arm, wrote a check as well.
The couple also set up a GoFundMe page to help pay the bills, which raised nearly $19,000 in the first two and a half weeks.
He didn’t put a limit on the fundraiser because “we really just don’t know” what the total cost will be. He’s also looking into a home equity loan to put toward the procedures; a friend built him a brand new deck to help with the appraisal value.
Planning for the future
Jessica is dealing with all this as she pursues a full schedule of classes at Austin Community College en route to a biology degree.
“Kind of learning how to take everything day by day, while still planning for the future,” she said. “It’s definitely something that I wasn’t expecting to do at 25, but it’s worth it.”
“She’s just been there for me every step of the way, helping me with everything,” Rob said.
Both of them know this is just the beginning. Rob’s recovery will be lengthy and difficult, and they still have more fertility treatments to look forward to.
But it’s not stopping them from making the plans they’ve agreed on since they first started dating.
“All we can really do is trust in our doctors at MD Anderson (Cancer Center),” Jessica said, “and just really hope and pray for the best.”