When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 I was running a successful wine and food public relations agency, eating at the top restaurants and visiting the world’s great wine regions. Five years later, I came to a point where I considered applying for food stamps. My income was dried up and I was behind on my house payments. How did this happen to me?
I learned I was not alone and should not be ashamed. I decided to speak out and learn more. According to a University of Michigan study 25 percent of breast cancer survivors reported financial decline during treatment. One in three breast cancer survivors end up unemployed after treatment. Twelve percent of survivors were still paying off medical debt four years after treatment. Women who underwent chemotherapy had a 27 percent higher job loss rate among more than 1,500 breast cancer survivors surveyed.
Medical debt is one factor. Health insurance deductibles and out of pocket costs not covered by insurance drain bank accounts. It is very important to understand the fine print with your health insurance provider to make sure you know how to submit correct paperwork. It is also important to work with your hospital or clinic to make sure your treatment options are covered. My hospital’s financial services department required me to sign paperwork guaranteeing I would pay the cost of a specific drug ($4,000 per shot) if my health insurance did not cover the expense.
Many women cannot work or need to adjust their work schedule during and after treatment. Their spouse or partner may also need to take more time off from work to care for them. Their household income is impacted. I continued to work full time but not at full speed. A side effect called chemo brain impacted my memory and concentration despite all my best efforts to eat well, exercise daily and get enough sleep. No warned me about chemo brain. It just happened. I later found it the condition is common and can last for years after treatment.
Some women simply cannot or do not want to go back to the lives they led B.C. (before cancer). I’ve interviewed dozens of women who said the careers they had before cancer were A) no longer fulfilling to them B) too stressful C) no longer available to them. Employers too often look at someone who survived cancer not as a brave person but as a weak link in their system.
A mindset may shift when you face mortality, but the bills remain steady and for many are overwhelming. Dealing with the financial fallout of breast cancer treatment is something women may be hesitant to address or discuss. Your first priorities are healing physically and emotionally and caring for your family. But the reality is many of us need to find help and make lifestyle adjustments to upgrade the quality of our lives to stay healthy while downsize our cost of living to manage financially. It is nothing to be ashamed of, and it is a sign of strength to face the situation and seek help.
The high cost of illness cannot be avoided, but there are precautionary measures you can take: Continue reading