Cancer can take an enormous financial toll. In fact, 42% of cancer patients lose their life savings while undergoing treatment. As you finish treatment and focus on recovery, it can feel overwhelming to also manage the financial impact of cancer. That’s okay. It’s never too late to get some assistance.
ASK FOR HELP
Even if you were the one who handled all the money decisions before your cancer, your spouse or other loved ones may need to step in and help you. Having someone to open and prioritize bills, benefit checks, statements, and cancer-related correspondence doesn’t mean giving up all of your financial control or responsibilities.
You may feel uncomfortable involving adult children in your financial management. However, a fluid shifting of roles is often needed, as adult children can often offer a great deal of support. Remind yourself that love is a two-way street, offering them an opportunity to help their parent in a new, adult-empowering way. Relationship bonds can deepen through shared adversity.
MAKE A FINANCIAL PLAN
You may already have a financial health plan in place. If not, having one helps to prepare you for reclaiming financial balance in your life. Your cancer treatment may have cost more than what was covered by your insurance. Out-of-pocket medical expenses, deductibles, copays, prescription costs or experimental therapies can add up quickly. And, if you cut back on your hours at work, your income may have decreased. New living expenses may have come up too, like special diets, homecare, housecleaning, wigs, and transportation costs.
If you haven’t already done so, create a central folder for all of your financial documents. Next, estimate your net worth - the value of what you own versus what you owe - by creating a list of assets (property equity, bank accounts and investments) and liabilities (debts such as credit card, mortgages, college and bank loans). This form can help you organize these details into information for decision-making. Some categories are better than others for making payments, due to possible taxes or penalties.
If this feels overwhelming during or after your illness, know that there is help available. Consider speaking with a financial advisor about steps you can take to get your finances back in order. Many hospitals and care facilities have resources - social workers and other staff to help you.
The Financial Planning Association website also offers a search where you can find a Certified Financial Planner™ close to you. Ask if these Planners specialize in cancer care, or even offer pro bono help.
SPEAK WITH A BENEFITS ADMINISTRATOR
If you are still working, you may choose to sit down with a human resources representative or benefits administrator to reevaluate your benefits package for optimal coverage going forward. You can ask about short and long-term disability, continuing health insurance, retirement plan borrowing rules, and any accrued vacation time you may have. Knowing your estimated monthly social security is another good idea if you qualify for disability. You can create an online account to view a recent social security statement.
High deductible and/or coinsurance plans may cost less in monthly premiums, but meeting a high deductible before insurance reimbursements can throw your financial plan off balance. Also, be sure that the health care providers you are seeing are approved providers under your insurance plan.
Your ability to continue or limit your work schedule depends on many factors such as your overall health, the type of work you do, the stage of your cancer, and the kind of treatment you had. While some people need more rest, feel too sick to continue normal activity, or have doctor-issued restrictions, others are able to still work and keep pace with their normal routines. Many workplaces are open to special arrangements or accommodations during extended employee illness. This can help people to stay engaged with activity that they value and achieve/find/create some balance between cancer’s interruption and a lifestyle they enjoy. Speak with your manager to brainstorm options that work for you both.
Under federal and state laws, some employers may be required to let you work a flexible schedule to meet your treatment needs according to federal and state law. Read more about your rights under the law.
TALK TO SOMEONE
Most importantly, don’t keep overwhelming emotions or worries about financial challenges locked away inside your mind. Finding someone to talk to - a partner, friend, colleague, neighbor, or another cancer survivor - lightens the load of holding onto hard feelings alone. Human beings are meant to be in connection with one another. You don’t have to tough it out or fear you are being a burden. Reach out and tell someone when you’re struggling with how you feel.
- Explore financial support resources.
- Try a budgeting app like MINT, Good Budget, Spending Tracker, You Need a Budget or Smart About Money.
- Whenever you are confronted with a negative emotion that threatens to sabotage your best self (fear, self-doubt, anxiety, overwhelm), practice these 4 steps:
STOP – Bring your awareness to the negative emotion. Say to yourself “I need to pay attention, NOW.”
BREATHE – Take a slow deep breath. Relax into the exhale and allow the negative emotion to loosen and release.
REFLECT – Ask yourself: “What is my old pattern? What are my options, resources, insights? Can I alter my reaction?”
CHOOSE – Consider: “What is my best, most effective or helpful choice under the circumstances?” Proceed with kindness.