Cancer Care for Lillian Banks

Lillian Banks (née Friedberg) is an award-winning translator of German-language literature, such as The Third Reich Sourcebook (Univ. of CA Press, 2013), and numerous dramatic, prose, and poetry works by Ingeborg Bachmann and Elfriede Jelinek, among others. She is an acclaimed djembé drummer and teacher, who founded a non-profit corporation to support her work with African American youth in economically disadvantaged communities, training them as performers and providing academic enrichment, initially in Minneapolis and then in Chicago (Hooked on Drums). She has published on djembé drumming and the relationship of drumming with sociocultural issues.

Lillian is also a dear friend. In Dec., 2017, she was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer, which had metastasized to her brain.

Like many of us, problems with health insurance caused her to wait to seek medical care, even though she had worrisome symptoms.

Here is her story:

As adjunct professor, independent scholar, and freelance translator, Lillian was never eligible for health insurance through her employer. Since 2011, she was insured through her husband Jim Banks’ plan, but hesitated to seek medical care because of high co-pays.

In summer of 2017, she began experiencing symptoms of dizziness, nausea, and weight loss, but made excuses: she thought “it’s dehydration from working in the hot sun. Overexertion. High metabolism. By late August, she knew she had to see a doctor, and was preparing to do so in September.

Just at that time, Jim was laid off, and they were without insurance. Even the flex-spend money that had accrued over the year was gone. They were suddenly without a net. COBRA was cost-prohibitive. It wasn’t the cost of one doctor’s visit she had to fear: what if her symptoms indicated a worst-case scenario? What if she ended up with some “pre-existing condition” that could potentially interfere with her husband’s job search?

She put it off again. Meanwhile, Jim accepted another job, one with a substantial pay cut. The same PPO plan his previous employer provided would have cost twice as much. Lillian and Jim took a double hit: double the insurance costs, and 80% of his previous salary, beginning October 1. So they signed up for the cheaper HMO. The plan wouldn’t kick in until November.

Then one day Lillian nearly fell down the stairs. She called Jim at work to tell him. He was wise enough to ask his HR dept whether it was too late to get in on the PPO: luckily, it wasn’t, and by November, they had the same PPO coverage as before.

After a long diagnostic process at Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Care Center, Lillian eventually had a cranial MRI
on December 6, at noon. That night, around 9 PM, all the phones in the house began ringing. It was her physician, calling to tell her to report to the ER immediately. She and Jim were met by a team of four oncologists who immediately swarmed around them and began going over every inch of Lillian’s body, looking for signs of metastasis, since the MRI had revealed a large, life-threatening tumor on her cerebellum along with 3 smaller tumors. Radiologists performed a CT scan on her lungs—and there it was, an adenocarcinoma to confirm their suspicions. Diagnosis: stage IV non-small cell lung cancer, metastasized to the brain.

In retrospect, she was lucky. Her cancer was caught in the nick of time. This worst-case scenario was “covered” by insurance. It wasn’t likely to bankrupt Lillian and Jim, but neither was Lillian likely to survive beyond a year. Prognosis: 6 months (without treatment) to one year (with it).

That was 10 months ago. The initial craniotomy was performed on Dec. 8.

Since then, Lillian has undergone gammaknife radiosurgery, radiation to the tumor in her lung, and chemotherapy that failed. Subsequent immunotherapy succeeded briefly, then failed. She underwent another round of radiation. She had physical therapy. Multiple trips to the ER were necessary to treat side effects: Pneumonia, pneumonitis, blood clots, coughing up blood, uncontrolled vomiting.

Thankfully, the PPO has covered many of the costs, though not all. It hasn’t covered the $30,000 in lost income from having to turn down contracts she was too sick to complete. The co-pays have not been steep enough to throw her into bankruptcy—not yet, at least. Lillian and Jim have racked up debt having to re-configure their lives around cancer, cancer treatment, and Lillian’s new physical needs.

Lillian has already defied the odds. She says “Every step I take knowing that it is icing on the cake. I’m not supposed to be alive. But I am. To look at me, you wouldn’t know I was sick—not until I suddenly start vomiting while waiting for the train. Or lose my balance and accidentally knock something off the shelf at the store. Even then.”

Lillian is still working, if not as intensively, translating German texts into English, and is in good spirits.

Most recently, she has been fortunate enough to benefit from state-of-the-art immunotherapy drugs that are not currently FDA-approved for her form of cancer. But even with her husband’s health insurance, she is coming to the end of her financial ability to afford the enormous expenses related to her care.

I am asking you—in her communities of scholars, musicians, friends, and the public—to help Lillian in her time of dire need. We are beginning our GoFundMe campaign with a modest amount, $5,000, which will help her cover the cost of her current treatment and possible hospitalizations.

Please help my friend Lillian survive her cancer and continue to shine her bright light in the world.

All monies raised through your help will be deposited into an account for Lillian.


  • Anonymous
    • $100 
    • 1 yr
  • ABeth Dyer
    • $200 
    • 1 yr
  • Tammy A Holbrook
    • $250 
    • 1 yr
  • Elaine Schuster
    • $100 
    • 1 yr
  • Rosalind Shaw
    • $25 
    • 1 yr

Organizer and beneficiary

Therese Grisham
Chicago, IL
Lillian Lmr Banks

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