Finances a Challenge When Going Through Cancer? Is there Help?

By Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

Financial stress is a huge concern for most people when diagnosed with cancer. I know it was for me, so I can relate. Not only are you struggling with your diagnosis and the whole emotional rollercoaster of that dynamic, you now have the very real concern of how you are going to manage financially.

The whole process of treatment often means you will be unable to work during this period. If you do manage to carry on, it will likely be on a part time basis to accommodate treatment, doctor’s appointments, and recovery time from treatments. If you are able to be away from work, your body will thank you – it will have time to heal. However, that may not be an option for everyone.

For a lot of families, this means living on one income. And even that can be a challenge as the partner at home will likely take on additional duties not to mention their stress about your diagnosis. And they may wish to accompany you to some of your appointments and therefore have to take time off work.

Are there solutions and/or options?

There are always options. They may not be of your choosing, but they are nevertheless options. Let’s explore some of the basic options first and then get into assistance programs.

Living Simple

What does that mean? Well, it means cutting out all the non-essential expenses and activities in your life. It’s getting down to the bare bones of living. This might seem stark and drastic. However, one of the silver linings of this process is realizing what really has value in your life. You just may find that stripping down to simple creates wholesome simple pleasures.

a.) Groceries – now might be a great time to cut out junk food and start to practise cooking healthy meals from scratch with wholesome ingredients that can be cost-effective and at the same time incredibly healthy. I’m thinking fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Many world diets are comprised of these four main ingredients. Meat can be a sometime part of your diet. You’ll find that you will feel much better and the budget will be contained.
b.) Activities – instead of paying for a gym membership, or expensive club fees, what about investing in a good pair of running shoes and walking. Or hiking in nature. You can do this by yourself, with a friend, or with a group. It’s a self-regulating activity. When you feel better, you can walk further. When you are recovering from treatment, you can slow down. And it doesn’t cost anything – it’s free.
c.) Use the car less – trying walking or taking the bus to places you need to access. Or even using a bicycle weather and energy permitting.
d.) Use the library – excellent reading material, research information, CD’s and DVD’s are available for a minimal membership at the library. There are also a lot of excellent cost effective resources online if you have a computer. Most libraries have an online option as well.

These are just a few suggestions that the whole family can embrace. I bet you will spend more time together and feel lighter for lessening the financial drain on your budget.

Additional Resources:

1.  Insurance:

a. Check what is available through your place of employment. You may be eligible for short term disability which may lead to long term disability. There is often a period of adjustment before this coverage starts. Each situation will be a little different so check the details carefully. And not all drugs that may be prescribed for your situation are covered. This can be a substantial outlay for some of the specialty drugs.
b. Critical Illness – do you have this coverage? It wasn’t available at the time of my diagnosis.  It is a good option but one you need to have purchased way ahead of ever needing it. It will be paid out in a lump sum depending on which coverage you bought.
c. Health Insurance – in Canada, we have government health insurance as well as the option to purchase Blue Cross for additional coverage. It does vary by province, so ensure you know what your province covers. Most treatments are covered, but some additional drugs and/or treatments are not – and again, will vary by province.

2.  Social Programs

This is coverage for those who have no insurance or little other resources to help them through this difficult time. This is why these programs have been set up – to help people in times of distress.  Do not be shy or embarrassed to use them. Life happens. You will get through this.

However, before you are able to access these resources, you will need to qualify. That means you have had to use up a portion of your assets such as savings, investments, liquid assets, and other assets of value. It may require selling a recreational property, a luxury car, etc.  I have known people who had what they thought was a fabulous and substantial financial base only to discover that in their quest for wellness after a cancer diagnosis have had to use it all up. It can be a very humbling experience for sure.  So don’t think this is only about those who are not wealthy.

This is why the saying rings true – if you don’t make time for your health, you will have to make time for your sickness. Health is your most valuable asset – not the stuff we accumulate over the years and work so hard to get. In the end, it is small comfort and hasn’t the value we originally thought.

3.  Resources for Specific Information by Country

a.  Canada – Federal

Employment Insurance Regular Benefits
Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits
Canada Pension Plan (CPP-R) Retirement Benefit
Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPP-D) Benefits

b.  Canada – Alberta

Alberta Works Income Support
Alberta Works Health Benefits

c.  Canada – Other Provinces

Visit the provincial websites – check the Alberta categories listed above.  They may be under a slightly different name, but should offer similar support (i.e. Ontario instead of Alberta Works, they have Ontario Works).

d.  United States:

Click here to visit the site

e.  United Kingdom

Click here to visit the site

It would impossible to cover all the various programs offered by the many countries and provinces and/or states, etc. within each country.

4.  Other Considerations:

Here are some basic questions to consider even before you are sick, but especially once you are diagnosed.

a.  Are you insured and if yes, what specifically does your insurance cover?
b.  Are there other options if you are not insured? This could be available locally, state/province and/or federal.
c.  What expenses are not covered by insurance? There may be special drugs and/or treatments for your specific diagnosis which may not be under the coverage umbrella.
d.  Are there other options for treatment that may not be as expensive and are just as effective?
e.  What about clinical trials – are you eligible?
f.  Is there any assistance from your health system – i.e. the hospital, clinic, etc?

Cancer is more . . . 

Cancer is more than physical.  It comes with financial, relationship, emotional, and life changing components that are not often understood at the time. They become very apparent once you are into your journey. And, the financial piece can eat away at your peace and ability to heal, keeping you in a constant state of worry.

Hopefully, you will investigate the information and resources shared here and find some sense of ease to see you through at least the treatment phase.


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