If you were recently diagnosed with cancer, the feelings are absolutely overwhelming. The ongoing thoughts that go through your mind after whether you will live or die, are finances. Will I lose my job, will my insurance cover my medical expenses, who will take care of my family, will I have to file bankruptcy, will I have to go on welfare, will I lose my house, my car, will I ever be able to work again and the playlist continues over and over in your head. It is beyond terrifying.
When I was diagnosed, I felt all of those feelings as I was single and self-employed without any sick time or short and/or long term disability benefits. Looking back with the old, “If I knew then what I know now”, I give this wisdom and advice:
1) INSURANCE: Most of us have absolutely no idea of what insurance coverage we have for a catastrophic illness like cancer. Who knows if your insurance will cover all chemotherapy drugs (some are $20,000 or more per infusion!), blood transfusions, port placement, for example, the drug Herceptin for one year ($60,000), or a compression sleeve? Most of us never even heard these words before diagnosis. Ask your hospital to check with your insurance company to make sure they are “in network” before you start treatment.
I made the decision to go out-of-town to the University of Michigan Cancer Center because I felt my life depended upon it. When I called my insurance company, they said University of Michigan was out of network, and I would have to pay 40% of my medical bills, which would have resulted in over $100,000 or more of additional medical expenses. YIKES! I called the insurance office at the University of Michigan Cancer Center for their help. Within days, with their help in convincing my insurance company I needed their care, my insurance company agreed to pay my medical bills 100% except for deductibles and considered that hospital “in network”. LET SOMEONE ELSE FIGHT THIS BATTLE. If you go to a large hospital, they have staff that deal with the insurance companies so you don’t have to do so!
Also, because I did not have prescription drug coverage, the Neulasta shot was not covered. Neulasta helps increase your blood counts after chemotherapy and costs on average $4,000 to $9,000 PER SHOT!! A cancer patient may need as few as 4 or many, many more shots! However, my hospital said if they administered the shot the next day with me as an out-patient, it would be covered. It entailed my driving another 120 miles round trip on the day after treatment, but it saved me $36,000 for the four shots I needed!!
There are also very expensive anti-nausea meds, Emend, which costs $100.00 per pill. If you do not have prescription drug coverage, the hospital can give it to you intravenously which has a much longer effect, and then most insurances will cover it.
There is a program for cancer patients who have high co-pays for drugs such as Neulasta or Neupegon – if you have high copays, check this out for help in paying those co-pays: https://amgenfirststep.com/
2) HELP: Ask your most detail-oriented and computer savvy friend to help you find what services are available to cancer patients in your area. Upon diagnosis, friends and family ask how they can help you. PLEASE take them up on their offers as you need to practice this new and difficult skill of accepting help. Many don’t qualify for state welfare benefits, but other help is available no matter how small. It all helps! For example, I just learned that in my city there is a new program for cancer patients and their families called Nightingale Harvest. The only requirement is that you are in active treatment. You need a note from your Oncologist–then they provide food, cleaning supples and toiletries to the cancer patient and family throughout treatment free of charge. What a marvelous charity!
While I was undergoing chemotherapy, my hospital put me in touch with an organization that gave me $300.00 in gas cards based on miles driven to and from treatment. Their only qualification – undergoing cancer treatment. I will never forget their kindness. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.
Here is a compilation of numerous organizations that provide help to cancer patients:
3) BEYOND HELP - If you are in a situation such as you have no insurance coverage, have no savings, lost your job, or any other dire situation, let friends and family help by either setting up a fundraiser or an online fundraiser such as http://www.gofundme.com or www.youcaring.com to raise money for you and your family. Please don’t be too proud, as people do want to help you!
4) CLEANING - Most cancer patients have very little energy and especially no energy to clean your house. Cleaning for a Reason is a service in the USA and Canada providing cleaning services to cancer patients while in treatment. http://www.cleaningforareason.org/
5) MEALS – The best thing friends and family can provide are meals with food a cancer patient can eat. This varies from person to person. This website offers a free calendar where friends and family can sign up to bring meals to the cancer patient, and then sends email reminders to the patient and the food preparer! www.mylifeline.org
6) PERSONAL CARE – Many organizations offer things such as massages, reflexology, relaxation, emotional health, and other classes for cancer patients and their families. The hospital where I received radiation treatment, provided me with a weekly massage at no charge. It was a great comfort to me.
7) FAMILY TIME – One amazing organization, Little Pink Houses of Hope, provide vacations to breast cancer patients and their families. For more information, go to: https://www.littlepink.org
8) AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY – http://www.cancer.org The American Cancer Society will put you in touch with help. They also offer a free program for female cancer patients…Look Good, Feel Better. http://www.lookgoodfeelbetter.org I attended and it helped so much! They provided makeup and skills to help you cope during treatment, like how to draw in eyebrows. I HIGHLY recommend attendance at this free class.
You will make it through and things will get better. But in the meantime, ask for help and accept help to relieve some of the financial burdens of cancer.
I offer chemo hats for every budget and keep my profit margin low to help others – please check them out at http://www.hellocourage.com