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Aimee Swartz Photo courtesy of Aimee Swartz

CANCER TREATMENT CAN BE EXPENSIVE, even with health insurance. Out-of-pocket expenses associated with my partner Jackie’s treatment—including copayments, deductibles and coinsurance—have added up quickly. In addition, Jackie’s inability to work because of her ongoing treatment for multiple myeloma has affected our household income significantly. I’ve also had to cut my work hours at times to be available for Jackie. We’ve struggled to pay the bills on many occasions.

Our experience is not unique. There’s even a term for it, cancer-related financial toxicity, that describes the far-reaching effects of the financial upheaval of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. Research shows that concerns about money can also erode a cancer patient’s quality of life and even cause some to skip doses of prescribed medications, which can undermine care.

There is no easy fix for financial toxicity, but my partner and I have learned to work together and with her health care team to address our concerns.

Talk about it. At first, I was reluctant to discuss the financial impact of treatment with Jackie because talking about money has always been taboo in my family. In comparison to my partner’s grappling with cancer, my fears about money seemed irrelevant—and even inconsiderate. But if you truly want to work on your financial situation, talking about it is necessary.

Involve your team. Encourage your loved one to share financial concerns with members of the health care team, including oncologists, nurses and social workers. As the caregiver, it may fall to you to ask about the cost of treatments and to find out what and how much health insurance will cover. These are reasonable questions that are best addressed early in the treatment so you can minimize surprises later.

Assess financial health. Social workers at the hospital may be able to provide resources or referrals to financial planners who have experience working with people with serious illness. A planner can help you assess your current financial situation and devise potential strategies for paying off debt that are least likely to adversely affect your long-term goals.

Track income and expenses. Knowing where the patient’s money goes, including treatment-related expenses as well as less obvious costs, such as for child care, transportation and parking during treatments, can help caregivers anticipate potential shortfalls. I keep track of every dollar coming in and going out, so I am better able to cut back when needed.

Seek additional financial support. Some organizations, including CancerCare and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, provide financial assistance resources. In addition, government assistance programs, such as Medicaid, may be another option for those who qualify.

As overwhelming as the costs of cancer can be, I try not to let that stress prevent Jackie and me from enjoying our lives together. Voicing our concerns, instead of ignoring them, has played a key role in helping us address our fears, which ultimately has brought us closer together. 

Aimee Swartz is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Her partner, Jackie, has been living with multiple myeloma for 15 years.


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