One important aspect of your cancer treatment plan is your financial well-being. This component of cancer care can sometimes be overlooked by friends and family who may be focused primarily on your physical health. You may be overwhelmed with the details of medical care and adjusting to new routines, which can make it difficult to think about how to navigate the financial demands of life outside of treatment. There are numerous ways to seek support and steps you can take to ensure financial security throughout your cancer journey.
Taking the first step
First, recognize that managing your finances is a critical issue for people and their families living with cancer. Research shows that cancer patients and survivors are at higher risk of experiencing financial problems. This is often referred to as “financial toxicity,” a term that encompasses the financial problems that result from expenses related to cancer treatment.
Creating an organized system for your finances can help you to regain a sense of control over your cancer experience and help minimize feelings of anxiety and distress. Expected expenses can be accounted for as you begin to plan for treatment. It is also important to consider how your income may be impacted over the next few weeks and months, especially if you or a loved one who is helping you needs to take time off from work.
Consider organizing your finances into three distinct categories:
|Direct Medical Expenses||Co-pays, medical bills, medications, deductible, and out-of-pocket maximum|
|Treatment-Related Expenses||Transportation (including gasoline and parking expenses) to medical appointments, temporary lodging near a hospital, childcare, over-the-counter medications, durable medical equipment|
|Expenses of Daily Living||Housing, food, utilities|
Creating a budget can be a helpful way to begin. Understanding your deductible and out-of-pocket maximum will guide you when budgeting your medical expenses. Your income and expenses will likely change throughout treatment as you navigate other aspects of your life such as work and responsibilities for children. Review your budget regularly to make edits as appropriate.
Asking for help
As you adjust to cancer, it is natural to experience a sense of vulnerability about needing financial support. Asking for help can be tough and awkward as it can symbolize a loss of control and sense of independence especially if you feel like others are in greater need than you. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve ever experienced this type of feeling of need. Think about the concept of communicating what you need as a skill that can take time, patience, and practice.
Regardless of your personal situation, it is likely that you will feel some financial impact from cancer. You are not alone. Others with cancer are concerned about finances as well.
While it can be uncomfortable, find out if you are eligible for financial assistance. You have a right to this resource just as others in a similar situation. If loved ones are asking for ways to support you during treatment, ask for something concrete such as transportation relief or food. Letting others help can have a meaningful impact not only on you but also on your loved ones.
Strategies for accessing support
Understanding what supports and resources are available to you is essential to maintaining a healthy financial well-being throughout treatment. Find out the resources that may be available to you at your treating institution as well as on a local, regional, and national level.
Here are some strategies for accessing financial support:
- Ask your medical team if there is someone on the team or at your treatment facility who you can talk with about the financial aspects of treatment. Some institutions have financial counselors available to guide patients through financial-related concerns of treatment. Ask for a list of cancer support-related organizations that may provide financial assistance for your specific cancer diagnosis or type of treatment.
- Contact your insurance company and ask to be assigned a case manager who can review your benefits and answer questions related to medical bills. Ask the case manager if you are entitled to any financial relief such as reimbursement for gasoline or temporary lodging.
- Contact the billing department of your oncology clinic and ask about a financial assistance application and/or if you can establish a payment plan for medical bills. Even small, consistent payments towards your medical bills can help avoid bills going to collections.
- Talk with your employer and find out if you are eligible for any paid leave benefits.
- Find out if you are eligible for Disability Insurance programs on the state and federal levels.
- Contact your local office of Social Services of the local Department of Health to find out whether you are eligible for any public assistance (for example, food stamps or temporary cash assistance).
- Consider engaging in personal fundraising through your support network and community.
More resources for finances and cancer:
For further reading, check out the Iris team’s top resource picks for navigating finances throughout cancer:
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Reviewed by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board
This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.