by Andrew Elder
Let’s face it; cancer ain’t cheap. Besides threatening to kill you, cancer can potentially devastate your career, disrupt your family and friendships, and generally take over your life. And a lot of that has to do with money. From diagnosis to treatment to recovery, cancer can be a breathtakingly expensive ordeal. But that fact does not mean that a cancer diagnosis is an automatic ticket to the poor house. More importantly, though perhaps harder to hear, a cancer diagnosis does not relieve you of your responsibility to manage your finances well. Win or lose, protecting yourself and your family financially during a cancer battle is vitally important – either to your own future, or the future of loved ones that may be left behind.
I’ll say it up front: I believe in fighting with every resource that can be marshalled. I would never suggest someone skip an avenue of treatment – and put their life at risk – to save money. But understanding and practicing good fundamental personal financial principles is the best defense against the financial upheaval caused by cancer. Yes, you and your family may end up bankrupt or buried in debt no matter what you do. But a solid foundation and good habits during the fight gives you the best chance to avoid that or recover from it and start moving you (and your family) toward recovery. No matter what happens, being prepared financially will give you a better outcome. And no; “being prepared financially” doesn’t mean having a big pile o’ money. It means managing what you have – no matter how much or little that is – wisely and with intention.
The tragic part is that handling money can be far easier than most people think. It can be a small effort in terms of time and energy, but have a massive impact on every other area of treatment and survivorship. I’ve known survivors who simply gave up dealing with their money issues completely after their diagnosis. They stopped saving and budgeting, ignored their debt, and accepted any expense (and its consequences) as justified with little thought. One friend who survived spent years digging his way out of the massive hole he found himself in, setting back retirement and other goals for his and his family’s future. Another friend of mine was the partner of a man who fought like hell, but sadly didn’t survive. After watching his partner die before his eyes, he then had to sell the home their children were raised in to pay medical debts.
Think about it like this: for those in the midst of the battle, how much harder is it to fight through diagnosis and treatment while also dealing with student loan debt, credit card balances, the stress of living paycheck to paycheck, or fights with a spouse or partner over money? And think of the possible outcomes: if a person beats a cancer diagnosis, doesn’t it make sense to learn to limit the financial damage as much as possible so their new lease on life isn’t a literal lease? And should the worst happen, won’t they leave this life more peacefully knowing they’ve done all they can to leave their families financially secure (or at least stable) in the midst of grief and a new reality?
Starting next month, I’ll be digging into some of these specific fundamental financial principles, and looking at the costs of cancer treatment and how to limit their impact on your life. I’ll cover health insurance and how to make it dance to your tune for a change, as well as what your options might be for life insurance (yes, it’s still possible!). And if you’ve already beaten cancer – but feel like you lost the fight financially – I’ll show you how to put a plan in place that will get you out of debt and back toward winning with money as fast as possible. Those of you who were left behind by someone who lost their cancer fight, the same goes for you.
After the battle, life remains. Whether it’s yours, your loved ones, or some combination of both, the best life is the one free of the shadow of cancer. If I can help anyone reading this with that process at all, I’ll be glad that I’m here and able to do it.