Personal Story Template2017-07-06T12:09:40+00:00

SSDI & Cancer: A Personal Story

Claiming SSDI benefits can be a difficult and complex process. This is the story of one person’s journey to approval, with expert assistance from Allsup.

Machinist Battles Cancer

Carol Stream, Illinois – “I was as strong as a horse. There was nothing I couldn’t tackle.”

For Terry Zook, a machinist who once weighed 215 pounds, adjusting to a body weight of slightly more than half his original size and relying on various medical devices to simply breathe and walk, has been the greatest challenge of his 59 years.

Were it not for the outstanding care and expert attention from Allsup, and in particular, claims representative Michele Foster, Mr. Zook might tell a different story.  

Diagnosed with esophageal cancer in March 2003, he underwent intensive radiation, chemotherapy and surgery to battle a throat tumor that had grown to the size of a small tangerine. “I didn’t realize anything until one day I couldn’t swallow. Nothing. Not food or liquids. Just a little water. After several days, I got scared and went to my doctor who referred me to a specialist. I had an early stage cancerous tumor growing inside my esophagus,” he said.

From that point forward, Mr. Zook recalls more than 100 appointments with several specialists to assess and administer his treatment. They recommended a combination of three treatments: 25 days of radiation targeted directly on his lungs, six weeks (three on, one off, three on) of round-the-clock chemotherapy to substantially shrink the tumor, then surgery to remove it. 

As is so often the case with chemotherapy, Mr. Zook experienced grueling side effects, including hair loss, vomiting, loss of feeling in his fingers and toes, and weakened muscle tone. After gaining some strength following the last chemo treatment, his surgeon removed a three-inch section of his esophagus and part of his stomach. Though in the hospital for one month, Mr. Zook, eventually recovered and returned to work as a group leader machinist for his former employer.

All appeared to be going well until the Illinois man found himself getting sick from time to time and experiencing extreme difficulty breathing. “It turned out that fluid was building up in the sac around my lungs creating pressure,” he said. The pressure was so intense that he could barely walk. So about every eight days, he’d go to the emergency room where doctors would drain the fluid. “They’d insert a four-inch needle into my back, which was excruciating if the medicine they used to numb the area didn’t take,” he explained. 

Mr. Zook underwent this ordeal to remove the fluid and relieve the pressure about nine times. Eventually, when given three options to handle the issue, he decided to undergo an operation that would seal the two layers of the pleura, or sac, preventing the accumulation of fluid. Problem free for a few months, he returned to work thinking that all had finally improved. 

 

No Longer Able to Work

Unfortunately, the concentrated radiation and chemotherapy, while keeping him cancer-free for almost five years, had severely damaged his lungs, rendering him no longer able to work.

 “I tried to go back many times because I really liked my job and the company. But I just didn’t have the stamina. Breathing was so difficult, and my strength was just about gone. Even today, I can not climb any stairs,” he admitted.

 Without any short- or long-term disability benefits, Mr. Zook decided to seek Illinois Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and discovered Allsup on the Internet. “I read the information and testimonials and liked what I saw — a 97 percent success rate, no lawyers and a company that did it all. So I took a chance and called them,” he said. 

 At first, Social Security denied his claim. According to Ms. Foster, it’s not uncommon for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to deny claims at the application and reconsideration levels, as the following figures illustrate.

 

SSA Award Rates, 2005 (most current available at this time)
Award % Deny %
Initial application (level 1) 36%  64%
Reconsideration (level 2) 14%  86%

 

Source: Social Security Administration

In his case, the SSA stated a denial of benefits of the length of his disability. One of the criteria for benefits is that a disability has lasted or is expected to last at least one year, or result in death. At that point, he had been off work for six months.

But Ms. Foster eased his mind by demonstrating Allsup’s true helping spirit. “Don’t worry about it right now. We’re going to re-file. You just take it easy and we’ll do the work,” she told him. 

Allsup submitted a request for reconsideration, also known as level 2, in August 2007 and by early November that same year; he received his notice of award. In a little over seven months, Allsup achieved what normally can take at least one year. 

 

Allsup Award Rates, 2007
Award % Deny %
Initial application (level 1) 49% 51%
Reconsideration (level 2) 19% 81%

Source: Allsup

“Michelle handled everything from beginning to end,” Mr. Zook said. “She returned my calls promptly and talked to me directly. I never had to worry. All those months, she was there for me. And even though she didn’t need to call me because I had signed up for the automatic fee deduction, she did so just to give me a heads-up.”

Nothing was a surprise during his experience, he said. “And today I’m getting my SSDI benefits. It’s never enough,” he said with a laugh, “but it’s done, and it’s all due to Michele Foster and Allsup.”

Life is very different for Mr. Zook these days. He is confined to the first floor family room of his home. But he has made the best of his situation by converting one-half of the garage into a small kitchen. It’s equipped with a microwave, two-burner hot plate, sink and refrigerator, so he has everything he needs to manage while his wife maintains her full-time job. The laundry room also doubles as a pantry for packaged foods and canned goods.

“After the surgery, I only had about a six-ounce capacity in my stomach, so I have to eat at least four times a day. This way I can make something simple without over tiring myself,” he explained.

Despite everything that Mr. Zook has been through and the changes in his lifestyle, he is very grateful for his disability benefits and thanks Allsup for helping him reclaim his life.

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