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My friend, upon turning 40, had a mammogram. Suspicious areas showed up in both breasts, which precipitated an ultrasound, two biopsies and additional mammography. All to the tune of $4,000. Although no cancer was detected, my friend needs to return every six months for images. “High risk,” they said. “We need to watch this closely,” they said.
Here’s the catch: Her insurance pays for preventive mammography, but not diagnostic mammography. Which means the ongoing imaging will be a significant out-of-pocket expense.
Short of propping open a guitar case and strumming on the streets, what’s a person to do?
In our case, Hubby and I had healthcare coverage, but were coming off a two-year unemployment period and had already gone through the anguish of selling our home and cashing out our retirement investments to stay afloat. And then those fearsome vexatious daunting words: “You have cancer.”
Which begs the question: Does the stress of financial issues hinder the healing process for the cancer patient?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes.
In fact, there’s a term for it: financial toxicity. Scott D. Ramsey and Veena Shankaran write about financial toxicity as being the “other” toxic side effect of cancer treatment.
This from Christopher Lathan, MD, and lead author of a study published by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute:
With that in mind, here are 6 suggested tactics to help in the area of financial toxicity:
Ask your medical team for recommendations.
Patient advocates, oncology social workers, case managers, doctors and oncology nurses — those who are in the trenches alongside the patients — can be a wealth of information regarding support services. Don’t be hesitant to say: “This is all new to me; I’m going to need some financial help; where do I begin?”
Inquire into pharmaceutical drug assistance programs.
Most pharmaceuticals run programs to assist patients who are in financial difficulties and are not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. Ask your doctor if you qualify for pharmaceutical drug assistance (programs require the physician to register the patient).
Check out national financial support resources.
A list of resources is posted at Cancer.Net under the heading “Financial Resources.” The list includes national service organizations; housing and travel assistance programs; assistance with medication and treatment costs; and general financial information. Although this list is robust, it isn’t exhaustive.
Which brings me to a riveting extraordinary courageous gleeful aspect of an otherwise dry topic:
Look into local financial support resources.
You might be surprised at the number of people in your community who have been adversely affected by cancer and, as a result, established some sort of venture to assist cancer patients and their families. In 2008, I self-published a book featuring a number of cancer survivors and caregivers from across the country who chose to give back in practical ways, mostly within their own communities.
Here are four people/families featured in the book:
Inquire about payment options.
A number of medical centers and clinics will negotiate with the patient and/or help set up a doable payment plan. Try to meet in person with the billing department. State your case, letting them know you want to make payments, and ask if they can give you a break on the rates and set up a payment plan. It costs nothing to ask.
Accept a friend’s offer to organize a crowdfunding effort.
There are a number of crowdfunding platforms that allow a family member or friend to create a website to collect donations and post patient updates. These platforms—GoFundMe, GiveForward, Fundly, Kickstarter and others—keep 5-10% of funds raised.
A friend recently suggested an alternative — YouCaring — that charges no fee, which means 100% of the donations go directly to the cause. “I have friends with family members who are cancer patients who have used it with great success,” wrote my friend.
* * *
Although these six tactics don’t come anywhere near solving the country’s challenges over healthcare costs, I love the big-heartedness dignity resilience scope far-reachingness of people who have faced adversity and then decided to become proactive in giving back to others on a similar journey.
What other ideas or tactics have you heard about or experienced firsthand for handling financial toxicity?
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In 2004, Marlys’ husband, Gary, was diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer and given two years to live. The couple established a non-profit — Cancer Adventures — and presented at a variety of venues across the country including the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, MD, sharing what they were doing to live well with terminal cancer. During that time, Marlys also wrote a book, Cancer Adventures: Turning Loss into Triumph, featuring 28 cancer heroes who had established purpose and meaning, and found a way to give back.
Gary lived 10 good quality years with terminal cancer, much longer than the experts predicted. After he died in November 2014, Marlys took an early retirement from the St. Charles Cancer Center in Bend, Oregon, where she served as Survivorship Coordinator.
She is in the process of procuring a literary agent for her newest book, a memoir highlighting the lessons cancer taught them about living and dying well. While her story is one of setbacks, Marlys knows she has a greater purpose in life — a passion for showing people how to navigate life’s challenges, tenaciously and with heart wide open.
Follow Marlys on her website Cancer Adventures.
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