How to Save Money During Breast Cancer Treatment

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Saving money while saving your life sounds like a strange juxtaposition of ideas, doesn’t it? After all, isn’t your life priceless? Should you be worried about pinching pennies when it comes to staying alive? Well, no… and yes.

    For many of us, the reality is that breast cancer treatment is a huge drain on our pocketbooks. Even with health insurance, the deductibles to be met and the endless co-pays are a financial strain that seriously impact our lives. And if you don’t have health insurance–-well, there are probably social service safety nets at your hospital, but you’re still going to be left with one whopping big bill by the end of treatment.
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    What’s a financially struggling gal to do? I don’t purport to be able to solve the staggering problems of those of you without health insurance; thankfully, I have no experience with that situation (yet). I’m a comfortably middle class working woman, with health insurance benefits I’d call pretty average: not “WOW, this plan covers everything,” but not “For what this plan covers, why am I bothering to pay these hefty premiums?” either.

    I’ve got a husband who’s semi-retired, and a son in college. I don’t take wild vacations, don’t drive a fancy car, don’t have expensive jewelry, and don’t go out to eat. I just go to work, come home, go grocery shopping, cook, eat, clean up, read a book, and go to bed. Sound familiar? I know there are millions of us out there: the responsible working mom/wife/community member.

    Then breast cancer strikes, and the bills start to pour in. You’re so totally engrossed in the physical process of stopping this disease, and so emotionally exhausted by this blow to your dream of a long, happy life, that it’s nearly impossible to examine the cost of treatment. I don’t have the answer to cancer’s huge price tag. But here are a few easy tips to help you save at least a few dollars along the way.

    Skip the Wig. If you’re having chemo, your first awful fear is that you’ll lose your hair (you probably will). Your first mental solution is to purchase a wig. But hold on: are you really a “wig type” person? The cheapest online wigs will run you just under $100; but then again, if your sense of self is important enough for you to want a wig, do you really want a cheap one? Good wigs can run hundreds of dollars. I’ve known woman after woman who purchased a wig in those first awful, panicky days after diagnosis, and then never wore it. “It itched.” “I looked dumb in it.” “My family didn’t like it.” Scarves, hats, and just plain “bald is beautiful” are all lower-cost solutions to not having hair. I particularly like the last one. After I had lost my hair to chemo, I wore a baseball cap for awhile. But I could never get used to wearing it inside; I kept running into doorjambs. I asked my co-workers if they minded if I went without it, they didn’t, and I actually got very used to being bald. It felt like a badge of honor: “I fought the chemo fight and I’m still here!”

  • Ask for Samples of “Comfort Drugs.” These may range from anti-nausea drugs to mood elevators; the health-care community seems to have a pill for everything. However, not every drug works for every patient. Over the course of treatment, I filled a number of prescriptions that I never used, beyond taking the first couple of pills and assessing that they didn’t work. Doctors often have pill samples left them by the drug companies. Before your doctor writes you a prescription, ask if he’s got a sample you could try. If it works for you, fine, get the prescription. If it doesn’t, you’ve saved yourself what could be hundreds of dollars, depending on the drug and your insurance coverage.
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    Here’s one that’s tougher to do, but invaluable:

    Find Yourself a Friend Who Works in the Hospital. I was talking to an operating room nurse recently who was diagnosed this summer. Scheduled for a lumpectomy, she asked that it be done under local anesthetic, not general. I asked her why. “I knew with a general anesthetic I’d wake up groggy and sick. I didn’t want that. And I didn’t need anything more than a local.” I imagine that local anesthetic was less costly than general. And it’s something I never would have thought of when I had my own lumpectomy. Find a friendly cancer nurse, and ask about lower-cost options for all of your treatments; she or he just might suggest something that saves you a couple of hundred dollars. And to many of us, that’s a couple of weeks of groceries.
Published On: March 13, 2007