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Here’s How You Can Talk About Cost With Your Cancer Care Team

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“Don’t be afraid to ask for help — the help is there for you if you seek it out.”

These are the words of Marcus — husband, father, comedian, and caregiver for his wife Nikki during both of her cancer journeys. It’s important for everyone to hear encouragements like these when going through cancer treatment, though this can also be some of the hardest advice to follow.

We know that asking for help, especially related to money, can be daunting, uncomfortable, and even a topic that many families or communities traditionally avoid. However, there is no shame in being worried about money while going through cancer treatment and there are lots of resources out there to help.

Marcus with Nikki while she was going through cancer treatment.
Marcus with Nikki while she was going through cancer treatment.

Here are some tips you can follow to make your conversations about the cost of your or your loved one’s cancer care a little easier.

Talking about the many costs of cancer

When treatment for cancer begins, you get a lot of information all at once. There are several names to remember, people to meet, places to go, and big questions about what treatment is going to be like from a medical and emotional perspective.

Conversations about finances or the cost of treatment may get overlooked, pushed back, or forgotten among the long list of other questions swimming through your head.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed after your first appointments and unprepared to think about what money has to do with anything. Unfortunately, though, it won’t take long for you and your family to start feeling the financial side effects of cancer so it’s best to start asking questions about cost and financial resources as early as you can.

You may have always been able to pay your bills every month, but it’s okay if you can’t during treatment. Even if your monthly expenses aren’t a concern right now, it’s okay to ask for help with the costs of treatment and other bills.

No one plans for cancer, so there may also be some unexpected new expenses that come with treatment, such as hospital food, extra gas or public transit tickets for getting to and from the hospital, childcare or eldercare, and so on.

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Side Effects of Cancer: Why Money Conversations Should Be Part of Your Treatment Plan

How to approach cost conversations

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy that works for every person dealing with cancer, but you may find that something that worked for someone else also works for you.

For example, Marcus and Nikki had a binder from their care team with all of the information about their doctors and medical team. They also used this binder to keep important financial documents and bills in one place. This can be a really useful way to keep track of payments and have them on hand when talking about certain bills or money concerns with someone at your care center.

You can also keep a running list of questions for your care providers in your binder or another place that works best for you. That way, you can jot things down in between or during hospital visits so you won’t forget something you wanted to ask about during your next appointment.

While anyone on your care team can help you with these questions, you may want to choose certain people you feel most comfortable with or make an appointment with a patient navigator or social worker who can either answer your questions or direct you to someone who can. Your hospital’s billing department is also a good place to go when you have questions about the cost of treatment.

Nikki, for instance, recalled specific people on her care team who would check in with her about appointments or help answer her questions. During her first cancer treatment, she had a patient navigator who worked with her, and when she was diagnosed again, the woman who helped her with cold capping during treatment was someone she leaned on for support.

Marcus and Nikki taking a fun family selfie with their children.

Start by finding a person on your care team who you feel comfortable opening up to and confiding in, and go from there. Even if they’re not a financial expert, they can track down the answers you need.

You can also talk directly to a financial expert through Family Reach’s free financial coaching service. We’ll introduce you to a volunteer Certified Financial Planner™ professional who will share their expert advice, help you manage your finances, and advocate for your needs.

Questions to ask your care team

If you’re ready to talk to your care team about the various costs of cancer, here are some questions that may help guide your conversations.

  • How much is my treatment going to cost?
  • Am I going to be able to work during treatment?
  • Can someone review my insurance with me to see what will be covered?
  • Is there someone I can talk to about a payment plan for costs not covered by insurance, like a patient navigator or social worker?
  • Does the hospital have any financial assistance programs for families dealing with cancer?
  • Is my family eligible for any government assistance programs?
  • Are there more affordable alternatives to the pills you prescribed?
  • Is it possible to schedule those follow-up appointments on the same day so I only have to take one day off of work?
  • Can you help me apply for financial support from Family Reach?
  • Do you know of any organizations that offer financial help to cancer patients?

Some of these questions may not fit your situation, but the important thing to remember is to always ask. And yes, that’s easier said than done. But you know the most about your situation, and the help is out there. Your care team, your friends, Family Reach, and lots of other people are in your corner. There’s no shame in asking them for help.

Check out the Family Reach blog for more advice on navigating cancer costs and stories from family voices.

Devin Traxler, MSW, LSW
Lead Resource Navigator • Family Reach Staff

Devin Traxler is a social worker in our New Jersey office. She is one of our Resource Navigators and enjoys working with families and social workers across the country. When she’s at home, she likes to hang out with her cat and two dogs, and work on art projects.

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