Not a week goes by that I don’t see a blog or Facebook post asking how to help a friend with cancer. People often suggest many tangible things, but rarely money. Given our focus on the financial side of cancer this month, I’d like to clear up some things and provide a suggestion.
There aren’t many one size fits all ways to help someone going through treatment. Cooking meals is nice for some, but others may not be up to or able to eat (mouth sores can really make it hard to get down a meatloaf). Some people would love a snuggly pair of pajamas, while for others this is just a reminder of their illness. In the end, asking the person what they need is usually best.
There is one thing that almost all people going through cancer treatment will experience: cancer is EXPENSIVE. You may think having health insurance means patients and families do not need to worry about the cost of care. But even those with “good insurance” will undoubtedly feel the financial hold of cancer treatment. There are so many expenses not covered by insurance, that any financial help would be appreciated by most patients and caregivers. Here are just a few examples of the unexpected costs of cancer:
- Surprise! Medicare doesn’t pay the whole bill! It is an 80/20 split – with the patient paying 20% of the bill. At several thousand dollars a chemotherapy treatment, that adds up quickly.
- Co-pays, co-pays, co-pays. You know that $25 you pay when you see your PCP for a cold? Multiply that by a lot – every doctor visit, every radiology test, every blood draw and chemo infusion. And don’t even get me started on deductibles!
- The cost of gas and parking add up quickly too. If the patient ends up in the hospital for a period, add on daily parking costs for the caregiver and money to eat while there.
- Job related costs – maybe the person cannot work and has to take time off without pay. This may be true for the caregiver as well. Perhaps they have to pay for COBRA to maintain their health insurance on top of that.
- Dependent care costs – this could be added childcare expenses or for the care of an elderly parent. Maybe the patient is usually the babysitter but can no longer reliably provide this care.
These costs add up. Studies have found that 62% of cancer patients are in debt due to the costs associated with treatment. Forty-two percent deplete their life savings within the first 2 years of treatment.
How can you help?
With all this in mind, think about ways you can help take some of the burden off their pocketbook so they can focus on getting well. Some financial helpers that come to mind:
- Gift cards for a major drug store for those over the counter medications and supplies.
- Gift cards for supermarkets or gas stations.
- Offer to drive to appointments – and don’t expect them to pay for the parking or give you gas money.
Don’t have money to spare? Take on a job they may not be up to doing so they won’t have to pay someone – mow the lawn, rake the leaves, clean the house. Take the kids after school or offer to help with childcare on appointment days. Have experience with accounting or bill paying? Helping the patient or caregiver weed through the bills and statements can be helpful as well. You get the idea.
When one of my family members was going through a lengthy cancer treatment course, an envelope of cash was anonymously left in her door one day. She didn’t cry much during her illness, but this brought her to tears. Such a selfless, generous and kind act at a time when she really needed it, but was far too proud to ask. It helped take a weight off her mind for a while – and now I hope you understand why.
Carolyn Vachani is an oncology advanced practice nurse and the Managing Editor at OncoLink. She has worked in many areas of oncology including BMT, clinical research, radiation therapy and staff development. She serves as the project leader in the development and maintenance of the OncoLife Survivorship Care Plan and has a strong interest in oncology survivorship care. She enjoys discussing just about any cancer topic, as well as gardening, cooking and, of course, her sons.