“I also know that the sooner I die, the more money my family will have.” ~from the post Why Advocate? by Lori Marx-Rubiner
On hearing the word “cancer” from your physician, your first thoughts are naturally on treatment. In fact, your focus should be on treatment. Unfortunately and sometimes tragically, in the US finances need to be a top priority as well.
The Burden of Bills
A study published in January 2015 looked into the unmet needs of cancer survivors. Over 20% of the group said that finances were a problem for them. In a 2011 study analyzing federal bankruptcy court records and cancer registry data over 14 years, rates of bankruptcy in cancer patients were twice as high as the general population.
Obtaining help from an oncology social worker is an option. Most major cancer treatment hospitals and many community hospitals employ oncology social workers. If you are having trouble finding one, contact the Association of Oncology Social Work directly at (847) 480-6343. A detailed list of resources is found here on the Association of Oncology Social Workers.
If you are employed when diagnosed, staying employed helps you maintain your sense of normalcy, your self-esteem and your quality of life. This, of course, is easier said than done.
How can survivors maintain their employment status? There are two important Federal laws that provide protections. The Family Medical Leave Act requires businesses of 50 or more employees to provide 12 work-weeks of unpaid leave during every 12 month period.
The other Federal law that may provide protection is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In businesses of 15 or more employees, the Federal government prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. In some cases, having cancer is seen as a disability. To learn more about this Act go to Equal Opportunity Employment page.
Short and long term disability may be required or provided by your company. The policy manual or Human Resources department are the best places to find this information.
When communicating with HR, bring your calendar of treatment appointments. In order to maintain your reputation as a good worker, provide a description of when you will be out and when you will be back to work regular hours. As FMLA can be taken incrementally, this is a way to show your employer that your absences are temporary and you are interested in returning to work full time as soon as possible.
Other Financial Resources
Beyond maintaining employment, there are other financial resources available.
Cancer.net has a significant list of resources, from housing and travel assistance to medication and treatment cost assistance. Some specialty pharmacies have a division specifically created to find monies to help pay for medications and treatment costs.
Many cancer patients, caregivers and families are turning to Crowdfunding. The platforms vary in several ways including the amount of money that has been raised on each one. One of the most important is in the accessibility of the money that has been raised. Some of the platforms take a week or more to get funds, while others go directly into your account. Another important difference is in the fees they charge which can include percentage charged per donation and processing fees for credit card donations. CancerHawk has compiled a list of 10 platforms with comparison information.
Be A Resource
At a time when much of life feels out of control, people with cancer do not need this extra burden. We would like for you to share your experiences, good or bad, in the comments section. If you know of any help or services, please share them here.
Is this just a problem for the US? Let us know if you would like to write a post about cancer finances in your country.