More than 250,000 American women will find out this year that they have breast cancer. If you’re one of them, that news changes everything, including your money situation.
There are many costs: co-pays, deductibles, physical therapy after breast cancer surgery, mental health therapy if the stress takes a toll, complementary therapies like massage and acupuncture.
You might also spend on wigs and scarves.
And then there are the sneakier, indirect costs, like parking for appointments, lost wages from time off work, and travel costs if you’re getting treatment out of town.
“These costs can definitely pile up in a way that’s surprising,” says Amanda Maddalone, a program manager with Family Reach, a Boston-based organization that helps cancer patients meet financial challenges.
It can be tricky to fend off breast cancer’s tug on your bank account. But you can take steps to do just that. Start here.
Tap Into All Resources
Don’t be too proud or embarrassed to ask for help with these costs.
“There are quite a few organizations that recognize how expensive cancer treatment is and will help,” says Lillie Shockney, a registered nurse and distinguished service professor of breast cancer at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore -- and a breast cancer survivor.
Try groups such as:
- American Cancer Society patient programs and services, which includes resources for lodging, transportation, and wigs.
- Susan G. Komen for the Cure treatment assistance
You can also search online for breast cancer foundations or cancer foundations in your area, such as:
- Ellie Fund in Boston
- Atlanta Cancer Care Foundation
- Lorie Lord Breast Cancer Foundation in Tulsa, OK
- Texas Oncology Foundation
- Patient Care Foundation in Los Angeles
Also check drug makers' price reilief web pages. (You’ll need proof of a prescription from your doctor’s office.).
Consider a Clinical Trial
Clinical trials test new treatments. They typically also pay for tests your insurance may not cover.
You can search on clinicaltrials.gov, but since there are thousands of studies listed there, it's a good idea to ask your doctor to help you find one that's a good fit for you.
Your doctor can also talk with you about what's involved, how the study works, and what it would pay for.
Time Your Chemo
Are you going to get chemo as part of your breast cancer treatment? if you're trying to take as little time off from your job as possible -- and you have weekends off work -- schedule chemo sessions on Friday afternoons.
Many people who do that get over their chemo side effects and able to return to work on Monday or Tuesday, Shockney says. That means fewer hours missed, which is key if you're paid by the hour.
Find an Ally
All the costs can cause “financial toxicity” -- distress about finances. It's very common, affecting up to 48% of people with breast cancer.
Even if you’re very savvy about your money, you may want an expert’s help.
Luckily, there are specialists trained to help you get what you need from the health care system and negotiate treatment costs. They’re called “navigators.”
Your hospital’s social workers can refer you to a financial navigator, and other specialists called patient navigators or nurse navigators also can help in this area.
Even in rural areas, community cancer centers should have navigators, Shockney says.
No health insurance? Your navigator can help you find out if you qualify for Medicaid or Medicare.
Make sure you know the costs of your treatment and plan carefully for them.
Family Reach offers a free cancer financial guidebook with action items to estimate your treatment and drug costs and evaluate your insurance coverage. They also provide checklists related to treatment, insurance, and home expenses.
“It’s helpful for any patient to write all expenses down, figure out which bills to pay first, and prioritize,” Maddalone says. “It is so important to start your financial planning at the same time as your cancer treatment.”
As Shockney says, “It’s enough that you have cancer. Let’s not let it take away anything else from you” because of treatment costs.