Healthcare Costs

The burden of a cancer diagnosis or other serious illness can be devastating physically, emotionally, and especially financially. Every day thousands of patients and their families struggle to make ends meets as medical bills for surgery, treatment, hospital stays, and other personal costs add up.

“The cost of cancer was devastating for my family,” says Stacy Brooks, whose mother was diagnosed with brain cancer in October 2010.

Brooks’ mother was uninsured at the time of her illness and, due to her profession, was unable to work after her diagnosis. “She was never approved for disability, so, she had no income,” says Brooks.

It was not long before the medical bills started to add up. Major bills for surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation were partially covered by Medicaid, but bills for expensive MRI’s and prescriptions all had to be paid out of the family’ pockets or charged to credit cards. The costs of cancer, however, do not stop outside of the hospital.

“As her daughter and primary caretaker, I was spending hundreds of dollars - if not more - just purchasing vital things that she needed to have in order to live with cancer,” recalls Brooks. “Everything from wigs to special food and drinks, to lotions and other products to help ease the pain and discomfort from treatments.”

The “little things,” it seems, truly do add up.

As costs continued to add weight to an already difficult and draining situation, Brooks, in an attempt to alleviate the financial burden, decided to ask the community for support. She set up a “GiveForward.com” site and, through the donations from family and friends, raised $15,000 to help fund her mother’s illness.

“The outpouring of support was phenomenal,” says Brooks.

Unfortunately, despite the many efforts of her daughter and the community, Brooks’ mother lost her battle to brain cancer in February 2011. And, even then, the bills from doctors and debt collectors continue to come in, mounting to tens of thousands of dollars. Currently, the family is not able to pay them, says Brooks.

Senior with medical bills

In the case of Stacy Brooks, her mother did not have health insurance. However, even insured patients can be hit with financial disaster at the hands of a cancer diagnosis. Molly MacDonald was a 54-year-old mother and wife when a breast cancer diagnosis changed the course of her life.

Her diagnosis made her unable to accept a new job she had been offered and the lack of income put a difficult decision in front of her: put her home at risk of foreclosure or forego the $1,300 per month COBRA payments. She opted to keep the health insurance that covered both her treatment as well as her husband and five children and their home went into foreclosure.

After a partial mastectomy and six weeks of radiation, MacDonald owed $8,000 in copays. Even after working with the hospital to reduce her bill, she struggled to make $100 monthly payments for three years to pay off her surgery.

After finally paying off her debt, it took MacDonald 18 months to bounce back and, even then, she still dealt with continued repercussions from credit score that tanked to 420 during her treatment. Her mother helped pull the house out of foreclosure, started a graphics business with her husband, and did contract work once she was physically able.

MacDonald launched a not-for-profit organization, The Pink Fund, which provides short-term financial aid to individuals in active breast cancer treatment or recovery, in order to help others avoid the financial disaster she struggled with due to cancer.

The effects of a cancer diagnosis are devastating physically and emotionally. When the extreme medical costs and financial burden are added on top of those effects, the situation can seem all but hopeless. Read our post "13 Steps to Avoid Medical Debt: Dealing with the Costs of Cancer" for the steps you and your family can take to help avoid financial disaster in the wake of a medical crisis.