When Dena was diagnosed with cancer at age 29, she had very little savings. When she added up the costs of treatment, medicine and transportation costs, she was overwhelmed by the price-tag of cancer. Read more to find out how she avoided going into debt.
Did you know that cancer is the leading cause of bankruptcy among young adults? Or that the average breast cancer diagnosis will end up costing $128,000? When I was 29 and diagnosed with breast cancer I had very little savings. I definitely didn’t have that.
Before each chemo appointment I need a blood test – $85 is my out-of-pocket contribution for these blood tests. I pay this amount every 3 weeks (and sometimes even more). After a few months, I suddenly realized that I had spent thousands of dollars on my co-pays and deductibles, and that doesn’t include all the other costs that go along with a cancer diagnosis. Without realizing it, all the costs had started to be crushing and my savings was evaporating.
Fortunately, I have found ways to ease the financial burden of my diagnosis, not to mention the stress that comes with worrying about making ends meet while you’re in treatment. In this blog post, I am going to share my “secrets” with you, because I wish I had them when I was diagnosed.
1. Apply for Scholarships & Grants
- Livestrong is a great resource for finding organizations that help people with specific needs – for example their Fertile Hope foundation helped me cut the cost of my fertility preservation by almost $10,000.
- Don’t forget to look for local organizations that serve your city or state. These smaller organizations often have access to specific discretionary funds to help people in your community. When I was first diagnosed I had to stop working almost immediately – but my disability didn’t “process” for 6 weeks. During that time, the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund covered the cost of medical insurance, which was almost $600 at the time! Their grant allowed me to focus on getting ready to start chemotherapy, without worrying that my coverage would be in jeopardy.
2. Give People A Way To Help You
- When I started blogging about being sick and sharing my journey on Facebook, every single person I had ever met wanted to help me. It was overwhelming (and amazing) to deal with all that love and support. I found that creating an online fundraiser, using a tool like Standbuy,, allowed people to make small, meaningful gifts that had a huge impact on my financial worry. They loved being able to help me, and I was able to raise almost $20,000 to help cover the costs of hurricane cancer.This can also be an amazing tool when you need a lot of money, very quickly. Fertile Hope only covered about half of the cost of the fertility preservation, something I am so grateful that I was able to do because I am currently unable to get pregnant because of cancer related issues.
- At the time, the situation could not have been more stressful – the doctors told me that I would need to start immediately if I wanted to do the fertility preservation because they wouldn’t delay my cancer treatment in order to do this, and, I would have to pay upfront. Using an online fundraising tool, I was able to raise the $10,000 I needed for this treatment in just 24 hours!
3. Check With Your Insurance Provider
- My insurance provider, Kaiser, has an amazing Members Financial Aid program and through them I was able to eliminate the cost of co-pays, prescriptions, hospitalization and doctors visits (pretty much everything but the premium) during my greatest time of financial need. All told, this saved me approximately $10,000 in the 5 months I was eligible for it. I only wish I had known about it sooner, but it never occurred to me to ask.
4. Look for Free/Discounted Support Services
- When you’re sick, expenses add up quickly. Look for organizations that provide free exercise classes, acupuncture, massage, counseling, special meals, even taxi vouchers to get to/from treatment. Often a quick google search of “cancer support in my area” will turn up tons of specialized organizations that meet niche needs.I found that these “luxury” add-ons, like acupuncture and yoga, made a huge difference in helping me feel as good as possible when I was in treatment. (All things considered, obviously.)
5. Apply for Disability (even if you’re still working part time)
- With a cancer diagnosis, even a reduction in hours will qualify you for some state disability. If the paperwork is overwhelming, check with your nurses to see if your provider offers filing assistance (mine did!), or if they can recommend you to a social worker who can help with this. You should never be afraid to ask for help. With assistance from loved ones and amazing organizations like these, you can avoid debt and focus on the most important matter at hand – surviving.
Do you have any other tips for avoiding debt during cancer treatment? Share them in the comments below!
- How to Apply For Disability Benefits
- How To Survive Medical Bills After Breast Cancer
- The Importance of Personal Health Records
- Has anyone worked while receiving disability? I have completed my treatment and want to try to work part time but I am worried I am going to jeopardize my disability and medicaid.
- What does everyone think about working during treatment? I’m still going at it, but wonder if I’m just hurting the company by not being able to give 100% all the time.
Dena Stern was diagnosed with Breast Cancer when she was 29 and started blogging about it on denajulia. She’s also been featured in Refinery 29 (twice), Lean In & The Frisky. She is now the Chief Community Organizer atStandbuy.us, where she hopes to help other people get through hurricane cancer with as little stress (and as much sparkles) as possible. Connect with her on IHC at DenaStern.