46-Year-Old Cancer Hero Calls Family Reach’s Free Financial Planning a “Game Changer”
“I never imagined how financially hard cancer was going to be,” shared Elvirra, a 46-year-old cancer hero from Illinois.
Elvirra is not alone in feeling unprepared for the financial side effects of cancer. Often times, it’s the “hidden” costs that take the biggest toll on cancer patients and their families, such as paying for transport to and from the hospital or adding more fresh, immune-boosting foods to the grocery bill.
When Elvirra was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer last year, she had just taken out a high deductible with her insurance and had to take time off work due to the demands of treatment. She had rainy day funds, but the financial impact of her diagnosis hit hard and fast.
“I was worried about my finances and my dear friend encouraged me to look for resources to help,” shared Elvirra. “I pushed through the ‘chemo brain’ that made it hard to focus, and I was fortunately able to connect with Family Reach and their Financial Planning for Cancer program.”
Developed for our Financial Treatment Program with the Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP) and the Financial Planning Association (FPA), the program pairs cancer patients with a volunteer Certified Financial Planner™ professional for free financial advice.
Here’s the story of how Elvirra and her volunteer financial planner made sure her diagnosis wasn’t followed by a financial crisis.
Treating the financial side effects of breast cancer
After reviewing Elvirra’s application to the Financial Treatment Program, we knew having a financial expert on her care team could help her manage the financial concerns she expressed. Through Financial Planning for Cancer, we quickly introduced Elvirra to one of our volunteer financial planners, Suzette.
On their first call, the pair shared more about themselves, bonded over their cancer journeys, and then got to work developing a long-term financial game plan specifically tailored to Elvirra’s needs and concerns.
Suzette’s advice included questions to ask about unemployment and disability insurance, which bills to prioritize, strategic methods to reduce debt quickly, and ways to increase cash flow while going through treatment. Some of the specific action items were reaching out to her medical providers to work out a payment plan, reducing her retirement plan contributions until she was back at work full-time, and writing to billing companies asking them to send letters rather than call her so the phone wasn’t constantly ringing.
“It is incredibly helpful to have someone skilled like Suzette look at all your finances and say ‘you’re on the right track,’” said Elvirra. “Before I talked to Suzette, I thought I was going to lose my home but she helped me gain clarity around my finances and that made me feel physically better so I could focus on my health.”
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Through their phone calls and emails, Suzette validated, encouraged, and empowered Elvirra, always mindful of helping Elvirra check off simple action items that feel like big wins and have a lasting impact.
“When we first met, Elvirra didn’t know where to begin. She felt frozen, but I wanted to give her a path forward through her treatment that would alleviate the financial pressure,” shared Suzette.
Suzette’s financial plan for Elvirra also left room for spending money on much-needed rest and rejuvenation.
“Suzette helped me realize that I could take a day off from work if I needed to or pay someone to clean once a week to keep my environment healthy and I would still be okay financially,” Elvirra said. “She even made sure that I was able to go on my bucket-list trip to Greece! What a gift! Without her, I never would have gone.”
The healing power of a pro-bono financial planner
Feeling more prepared to manage her finances while going through treatment, Elvirra describes the Financial Planning for Cancer program as a “game changer” that allowed her to breathe and focus on her health.
She continued, “preserving my dignity, knowing I can take care of myself without needing handouts, and being able to make wise financial decisions — these are the gifts this program gave me!”
For planners like Suzette, hearing feedback like this adds powerful meaning to their pro-bono work.
“As soon as you offer to help, patients and caregivers often communicate how relieved they are and how lifting the stress off of them allows them to focus on their treatment,” Suzette shared. “I truly believe that volunteering with Financial Planning for Cancer can not only change lives, but save lives.
A guiding light toward financial health
Elvirra’s cancer journey, sadly, continued earlier this year when she found a new lump. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was also furloughed from her job. Thankfully, she was able to lean on Suzette for some comfort and advice.
“Suzette helped me understand that being furloughed wasn’t a bad thing — and cleared the fog so I could navigate my new circumstances,” Elvirra explained.
More than the many financial tips and tricks they have up their sleeves, our volunteer financial planners are there when patients like Elvirra need voices of reason, support, and expertise. Their guidance is key to treating the financial side effects of cancer, and their cheerleading comes as a welcome bonus.
Always walking the fine line between her right and left brain, Stevie brings her creative and strategic thinking to her role as Creative and Brand Manager. Through writing and design, she amplifies Family Reach’s voice and brings attention to the financial barriers that often accompany a cancer diagnosis.
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Find out how Family Reach evolved from a regional family foundation to a national cancer nonprofit organization.