Breast cancer treatment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you’re unlucky enough to require specialized procedures, the amount can easily reach seven figures. How can you afford to pay for cancer treatment? But then - how can you afford not to?
Your money or your life.
For those of us with cancer, especially those without health insurance, the situation is just that stark.
Do you try to pay for surgery and radiation, chemo and hormone therapy - or at least part of all of those - out of pocket?
Or do you simply give it all up as an untenable situation - and die?
That’s not much of a choice, is it? And thankfully, it’s not one any of us should really have to make.
There’s help out there - but you have to dig and scramble for it. And unfortunately, the extra energy and focus you need to work your way through the maze of hospital bills, insurance claim forms, Medicare, and/or disability insurance regulations is a mental and emotional challenge even when you’re at your best.
Which you’re definitely not, when you’ve just been told you have a disease that might kill you. Or when you’re barely able to pull yourself out of bed during chemo - and then only to be sick.
What’s a survivor to do?
First, don’t panic. Millions of us have been through cancer, and the majority make it out the other side in one piece - both physically, and financially.
Next, plan some simple action steps, things you can do while you’re waiting for treatment to begin, or in between protocols.
The easiest first move is to read the information we offer here on this site about paying for cancer treatment. You don’t even have to get up out of your chair (or out of bed) - simply click through the links at the bottom of this post to find information on everything from federal aid programs to drug company rebates.
If you’re being treated at a hospital, ask to speak with a social worker. Oftentimes hospitals will have trained social workers who deal strictly with cancer patients; you may even find your hospital has a breast cancer social worker. Social workers can help you identify the exact help you need, and where to get it - whether it’s reading the hospital’s bills, obtaining reduced-cost drugs, or receiving assistance from nonprofits.
While you’re at it, ask the social worker if there’s a branch office of the American Cancer Society at the hospital. The ACS is a lifeline to those of us undergoing treatment; they offer help with transportation, with housing - even with wigs and makeup, if chemo robs you of your hair.
If they don’t have an office near you, visit the ACS Web site for an overview of services offered in your geographic area. Once you’ve entered your Zip code and arrived at the services page, click "assistance" in the block on the right, to narrow results down to financial assistance.
Paying for cancer treatment is a huge challenge, it’s true. But please, though you may get discouraged, don’t give up. You’re in a fight for your life; you have to be tough and strong, not just to survive the disease - but to get your life back.
There are people and organizations willing to help; you need to be willing to put in the time and effort to find them. The posts below will get you started - good luck
PJ Hamel is senior digital content editor and food writer at King Arthur Flour, and a James Beard award-winning author. A 16-year breast cancer survivor, her passion is helping women through this devastating disease. She manages a large and active online survivor support network based at her local hospital and shares her wisdom and experience with the greater community via HealthCentral.com.