Everyone has a cancer story, whether it’s their own or of someone they care about. With the advances of treatment, the great news is that more and more of those stories are victorious. Unfortunately a cancer patient’s finances often don’t survive with the same prognosis.

Along with the stress of already fighting for their lives, financial stress in the form of treatments and drugs that are not covered as well as travel expenses can force a cancer patient’s financial matters into ruin.

Most people believe that government health care and their benefit plan at work will probably take care of the costs incurred of a serious diagnosis, and for some cases that can be true. But all too often limits on coverage are reached quickly, the doctor prescribes something that isn’t on the “list” of covered medications, or experimental and holistic options… well, they aren’t options on those plans.

Also, household expenses still need to get paid while patients are away from work indefinitely, and all of sudden they are being asked a question they maybe never considered: How would you like to pay for that?

Options, or lack thereof

Costs like parking at the hospital and travel expenses add up while patients are unable to work, and people do whatever they have to do. Whether that means borrowing money, cashing out retirement savings, selling whatever they can, or in the worst cases… proposals and bankruptcy. The expense and treatment of cancer isn’t like buying a new washing machine, you can’t exactly shop around for different treatment costs. Your only option is whatever it takes.

We’ve all seen the heartbreaking go fund me campaigns for the single parent struggling with cancer or a family fighting for their child’s life. EVERY ounce of energy is spent on one goal. Living.

I love the spirit behind fundraisers like website campaigns or a community coming together for a banquet to help out, but if I’m being honest… I wouldn’t want my family’s financial survival to depend on them in that situation.

When you have cancer, so does your whole family

One impactful point made in my discussions about writing this with another advisor was that when one member of the family has cancer, it’s like the whole family has cancer – demanding every ounce of your time, energy, and resources.

When I was 15, my Grandmother’s breast cancer had relapsed and she was deteriorating quickly, it was recommended that she be put into hospice. Being the headstrong woman that she was, she refused and wanted to spend her last days at home.

Financially, it wasn’t really an option for her to have the care she needed at home. Fortunately, my mom is a nurse. Her and my aunt uprooted their lives to move to another city to honor my Grandma’s wishes for her last months and became her caregivers (along with many other family members).

I’m so thankful that our family could do this for her, but I think everyone can look back and acknowledge that along with the stress of caring for a cancer patient, there was significant financial stress for all parties involved.

The prognosis

Unlike my grandmother’s story, there are more and more triumphant stories of people who have overcome a cancer diagnosis. It’s not only possible.. It has become likely. But the fight against cancer is still exactly that. A fight. The treatment itself makes you ill, demolishes your immune system, and costs more than you can imagine.

The reality is that in what is likely the most trying time of someone’s life, they are unable to work, and incurring all kinds of unplanned expenses just to fight for their life.

A Calgary entrepreneur I recently spoke with shared “I was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in September 2009. Business had been slowing down a year before that from the 2008 downturn, and I had $20,000 in left in the bank.”

His treatments were covered but it was the side effects of chemotherapy that caused the unexpected expenses “My teeth were crumbling in my mouth. I looked for ways to get financing and grants, went from one place to another to find funding to fix my teeth.” In the end, a nurse from the hospital was able to pull some strings to get him into a program that would pay for his $20,000 worth of dental work.

He acknowledged that having some kind of coverage plan would have made a big difference in his situation, and said that he selected his employee health benefits very strategically once he was back in business, since a diagnosis can make you ineligible for personal insurance for 5 years or more.

Every once in a while, we get the privilege of helping our clients make a claim for a diagnosis or disability, whether it be for cancer or another life altering event. Joanne, an employee from one of our groups who just finished up her last treatment of radiation had this to say about her employee health benefit coverage.

“The critical illness payout is a comfort to have around because it acts like a big umbrella for whatever might come up. There are just a whole bunch of unknowns financially. As an example, I blew through our drug limit with the $2800 shots you need to have after each chemotherapy treatment”

Fortunately, Joanne found programs to help cover some of the extra costs of the injections and a necessary stay in Edmonton during her radiation therapy, while her disability payments from the group plan takes care of her everyday expenses so she can have peace of mind as she heals.

Of course we hate to see the clients we care about going through it, but at least we can give them the assurance that finances will not be primary cause of stress in their battle and that when they survive, so will their financial future.

Prepare yourself for Life's Unknowns