Even the most financially savvy and prepared can find themselves facing severe financial distress during and after cancer treatment. With the high cost of treatment, it’s not surprising that cancer patients are more likely to file for bankruptcy than people without cancer.
Nearly two percent of cancer survivors filed for bankruptcy in the five years after their diagnosis, a 14-year study of cancer patients published in Health Affairs found. The financial toxicity of cancer treatment that leads to bankruptcy may even affect long-term prognosis, with a 2016 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology citing that it’s a risk factor for early death. Recovering from cancer-related financial toxicity can be as important as recovering from the cancer treatment itself.
Even if you’ve done everything right, like meeting with a financial counselor prior to treatment, you still might find yourself facing financial hardship. Knowing what to do and where to get assistance can help you navigate your new financial reality.
Admit You Need Financial Help
Years ago, cancer was discussed in hushed whispers. We’ve come a long way, and now cancer awareness is front and center. Sharing cancer stories is part of the healing process. But when it comes to talking about the financial impact, the same may not be true. There’s still the old taboo that you shouldn’t talk about your money problems, but there’s also a sense of shame that comes with struggling financially.
There’s no shame in finding yourself in this position. Acknowledging you need help is the first place to start.
Get Help Early
To head off the financial toxicity of cancer treatment, meet with a financial counselor or oncology social worker at your cancer center. They can look over your current financial picture and see whether you’re eligible for state financial assistance programs. They can also provide you with local resources and financial wellness programs.
If you’re currently in cancer treatment, Emergency Cancer Relief Fund provides financial assistance for out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance. CancerCare maintains its own co-payment assistance foundation as well as a list of other foundations that provide such funds. It also provides oncology social workers who can offer online or telephone support, which includes navigating financial hardship.
Focus on Financial Planning
If you had a financial plan in place prior to your cancer diagnosis, you’ll need to revisit that plan now. If financial planning is new to you, you should consider professional financial planning. The good news is that there are free resources available. The Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP), which provides pro bono grant support for programs geared toward vulnerable populations, offers free online resources to get you started.
One of those cancer-related programs funded by FFP is Family Reach, a national nonprofit that focuses primarily on providing financial help to children fighting pediatric cancer and their parents. It also helps young adults (ages 18 to 30) living with cancer, and parents living with cancer who have children ages 17 and younger.
Family Reach has numerous programs, including direct financial assistance and a cancer financial education handbook in both English and Spanish. Its Financial Planning for Cancer program provides at least three pro bono financial planning sessions with a certified financial planner trained in the unique aspects of cancer financial burden.
It’s important to remember that you’re not the only person experiencing financial toxicity related to cancer treatment. Above all, don’t try to tackle this part of the cancer experience alone.
If you're trying to recover from the financial toxicity of cancer treatment, UVA Cancer Center's financial coordinators can help.Learn More