By Contributing Editor, Madhumitha Sabhanayagam
“Attention to health is life's greatest hindrance." Plato
“Money can't buy happiness.” “Money will not guarantee you health.” We have all heard these quotes and even we are guilty of speaking so. Yeah, these are true quotes, but having money and not having to worry about how “am I going to afford my next cancer-preventing/remediation treatment definitely would help me smile a little bigger, and sleep easier at night.
We all know how expensive cancer can be to deal with. What we fail to realize and ignore at our peril is the adversarial effect of the financial burden inflicted on cancer patients on top of all the other burdens they carry.
The negative effects of expensive treatment have warranted the coining of a new buzz word; financial toxicity. Financial toxicity is the emotional, mental, physical, life-threatening financial stress caused by cancer treatment costs. Dr. Ryan Nipp (catch our podcast with him coming out on Monday.)
Financial toxicity can linger for years, and represents a most vicious cycle. For example: To make appointments, we may be required to miss work, we may have to pay for daycare for the children to be watched while you are at radiation sessions, or you may have to cover travel costs. In some cases, your cancer could render you unable to work. Then you have to eat healthily. And we all know how expensive eating healthy can be. (How is a salad, $7.00 and a cheeseburger $1.99?). This occurs during the treatment phase and then there is post-treatment care. You still have to get yearly check-ups. You still have to keep up with post-cancer medications. And you still are eating healthy. The job you were once capable of performing or holding before, may not be yours, or you may not be capable of performing.
Financial stress can also take a toll on families. It can strain relationships and cause changes in family dynamics. All of this can be hard to navigate and untangle on your own. There are many marginalized communities that do not have the access to gain knowledge about financial toxicity Who inevitably get swamped with bills at the end and are left with crippling debt. Dr. Nipp, advocates for talking to your treatment team about finances even if you feel like you are not experiencing financial toxicity. To some it is a prestige issue, to some, it is a lack of knowledge and to some, they don't know what their finances are because they are not the breadwinner of the family.
Talking to your treatment counselor could help you figure out alternatives to help reduce the toll on your finances. For example, based on your prognosis, you could come in bi-weekly instead of weekly, your doctor could prescribe an alternative medication so that your insurance can cover it. These are some of the areas we could start with. A lot of the time, opening the topic up with your counselor may help them ask the right question to drive towards a proper, economic solution to the problem.Financial toxicity is still fresh on the scene today. It is a topic gaining more momentum and thus more research is being done to study the phenomenon and how to best assist patients to combat it. A Cancer prognosis is no easy thing to deal with, but the best way to make sure you stay ahead of your finances is to be honest with yourself and your team. They are there to help.