Cancer patient faces electricity turn-off

David BroylesStaff Reporter

January 3, 2013

A terminal cancer patient already struggling with family tragedy is hoping Duke Energy will not turn off her electricity.

Lela Edwards, a determined 64-year-old patient suffering from a rare form of cancer, said she has received a bill from Duke Energy informing her she owes them $1,400 by Jan. 7 or they will cut off her power. Edwards said the charges are the electricity company’s mistake and she shouldn’t have to pay for their oversight.

Shortly before she received the $1,400 bill, a technician replaced an electric meter on her home on Turkey Ford Road near Dobson and explained the old meter had been broken. She had noticed some variances in her electric bill prior to that, but she saw her charges $10 to $15 higher than normal for several months prior to the change in the electric meter.

“I asked and was told not to worry about this,” she said of the change in the electric meter that soon resulted in the higher bill. “Why should I pay for their mistake,” asked Edwards. “The next thing I know I received this killer bill. I don’t draw more than $700 a month so there is no way I can pay this. I’m a tough lady. I don’t want sympathy, but I do want to be treated right.”

She said a representative of Duke Energy told her they would send forms for her to fill out to establish payment arrangements so the power could stay on. She said she never received the forms.

“I paid them $150 last month,” said an exasperated Edwards. “They (Duke Energy) are so mean. I feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. What can a person do about something like this?”

Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Layne said she would not speak to the particulars of Edwards’ account without her permission but said this is probably a case of the company back billing a customer.

“Meters are mechanical and while it doesn’t happen often, they do stop working,” said Layne. “Most often a customer’s bills will drop or stop entirely and we typically do not see a spike in bills. Back billing unfortunately is necessary because the power has been used.”

She explained back billing is a process where the company goes back and compares bills from a similar period last year and factors in the changes in weather to determine a charge for the energy used. She said Duke Energy’s computer billing system “senses” changes in billing and tags the accounts electronically for attention.

For Edwards, the crushing bill is just another in a series of setbacks and tragedies. The turn-off notice came on the heels of Edward’s caregiver and sister, Pattie Maddox, dying last week from the same rare form of cancer Edwards has. She said she is in the process of trying to find a full-time caregiver to assist other family members who remain to help her.

“I’ve outlived it (cancer). My sister-in-law (Juanita Edwards) didn’t have cancer more than three years before she died,” said Edwards. “I don’t know how long I have got, but I keep it upbeat. I’m trying to be tough.”

Edwards explained symptoms of her form of cancer are similar to leukemia. This type of cancer, known as multiple myeloma, affects plasma cells in bone marrow which produce blood cells.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, a total of three in 100,000 people are affected by it each year. Edwards’ physician is Dr. Kellie Flippin. On Wednesday, the office confirmed there are no cures for this cancer and the officials there are trying to help Edwards just keep the disease under control.

Edwards said she has been no stranger to sorrow. She said she has lost two grandchildren to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and her son, Emmett Potts, died from pneumonia when he was 3 months old. She has helped raise two of her grandchildren, when their mother was convicted of drug-related charges, Edwards lost custody of them.

Edwards said she is resolved to continue and is hopeful a new drug on the market may cure or better control her cancer. She says her survival is helped by her “mischievous” nature and is hoping to beat the odds and continue for the benefit of someone else other than herself.

“I’m making up my mind to live long enough to see my grandchildren come home to me,” said Edwards.

For now, though, she’s just trying to keep the electricity on at her home.

“This (the electric bill) is not my fault,” she said.

Again, Duke Energy would not speak specifically about Edwards’ account, but Layne said the firm will typically try to work with people in these cases.

“We will work with customers in these situations so they have a variety of options such as paying in little chunks. There’s a number of things we can talk her through.”

After The Mount Airy News began working on the story, Layne said Edwards’ account has been sent to a customer services supervisor to see what plans of action can be offered. She said Duke Energy has a Medical Alert Program to assure the account of customers such as Edwards, who must use oxygen tanks powered by electricity, receive more careful handling. Layne said Duke Energy also can refer customers to various community agencies that can be of assistance as well as offering programs of its own to help customers in situations such as this.

Reach David Broyles at dbroyles@heartlandpublications.com or 719-1952.