The Cost of Cancer

Helping Young Adults Manage the Financial Burden
Cancer Survivor and Founder of The Samfund
Thursday, March 31, 2016 - 6:07pm

To kick off National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week (NYACAW) I’m headed to Roswell Park’s Annual Young Adult Wellness Retreat this Saturday to speak with patients and survivors about important topics that impact their lives. Every year, the first week of April is dedicated to raising awareness and changing perceptions about cancer in young adults. This patient population faces a unique set of challenges throughout the cancer journey. One struggle in particular is managing the cost of care.

The cost of cancer extends far beyond the obvious (medical bills, insurance premiums, co-pays) to include job loss, damaged credit, and repossession of personal belongings. But until recently, no one was talking about how these issues affected young adults specifically. NYACAW is a great opportunity to take this large discussion and ensure that the young adult cancer community is sufficiently represented.

That’s where The Samfund comes in. With our recently published paper in Cancer Medicine, we’ve put our stake in the ground as a leading expert in financial toxicity and young adults. But in order to prevent young adults from facing financial ruin, it’s important to understand how and why young adults are different from other age groups, especially when facing cancer.

Here are a few unique factors that affect a young adult’s financial health:

Career Stage
When a young adult’s life is interrupted by cancer, they suffer professionally and financially. Often times, they lack sufficient benefits or paid time off to warrant a medical leave of absence.

Credit
Establishing (and keeping) good credit is critical at this stage of life. With a lack of health benefits, maxing out credit cards might be the only solution to covering the cost of care. In addition to living expenses, many young adults have high student debt payments (which might have been deferred during treatment).

Family Planning
It’s critical to take steps to preserve fertility before treatment begins. However, fertility preservation could cost thousands of dollars and it is not covered by insurance.

The Samfund came about due to simple supply and demand. When we started out, there were no other organizations dedicated to the financial after effects of cancer treatment in the young adult population. As long as the cost of cancer drives young adults into bankruptcy or forces them into a position of choosing between food and health care (sadly, not that uncommon), we will continue to provide support through our programs.

While we are proud to be able to provide resources and direct financial relief to our grant recipients, we need to address the bigger problem. We want to expand our programs to provide more comprehensive, age-appropriate support to a larger community. To accomplish this, we will be actively involved in Critical Mass’s 2017 annual conference to educate ourselves on legislative advocacy and to build the skills we need to address these issues differently. We want to reach young adult patients at the beginning stages of their diagnosis before they come to us in crisis.