The Financial Challenges that Accompany a Cancer Diagnosis

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By Bennett C. Whitlock III, Private Wealth Advisor

Each year in the United States, an estimated 1.9 million people are diagnosed with some form of cancer. While every diagnosis is different, the disease evokes dread in almost all of us. On top of the toll cancer can take on our health, it can also create significant financial challenges. The Angel Foundation, a Minnesota-based nonprofit that supports cancer patients and their families, estimates that nearly three-quarters (73%)
of individuals diagnosed with the disease will experience some sort of financial hardship as a result.

It’s a startling statistic, but even those who haven’t personally been impacted by cancer can understand how the unpredictable costs of cancer care, aggravated by potential loss of income, can be financially challenging, if not devastating. If you or someone you love is coping with a cancer diagnosis, there are strategies and resources available to help contain the financial challenges during an already stressful period. Keep these tips in mind and be sure to seek help where it’s available.

Assess your financial situation.

While your physical health is and should remain your top priority following a cancer diagnosis, your financial health is important, too. Take the time to consider how your household income and expenses may be impacted — and steps you can take to mitigate a potential financial toll. For example, if you anticipate you may need to take time off of work to seek treatment for the disease, talk to your company’s HR department about what benefits may be available to you and if your absence qualifies for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage. Also seek to understand your health care plan to ensure you maximize the coverage available to you when paying bills related to your care. Depending on your situation, consider using your emergency fund (e.g., bank savings account or money market fund) to meet your expenses versus going into debt if you can avoid it.

Seek alternative resources.

If you don’t have health insurance coverage — or your policy won’t sufficiently cover the care you’ll need, it’s worth exploring the kind of support you may be eligible to receive. Because bills and debt can add up quickly there are alternative financial resources available to many cancer patients. National organizations like the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition (CFAC) can help connect patients to financial resources. In some cases, you may be able to find resources closer to home. For example, the Angel Foundation’s™ Virtual Financial Workshops in Minnesota connects cancer patients with a social worker and a pro bono Certified Financial Planner™ through workshops and one-on-one meetings designed to decrease anxiety about managing finances.

Get organized and write down everything.

You will likely talk to your insurance company and other financial institutions often. Make sure you have a written record that includes key details of your conversations, including the time, date, and what you talked about it. This is a crucial way to keep track of your medical expenses and handy cross reference when your medical bill arrives. With cancer — or any other disease that requires medical intervention — you will likely be inundated with documents, bills, insurance letters, doctor letters, and invoices, among other items. It is important to keep this paperwork organized.

Some patients are prompted by their diagnosis to get their estates in order, too. Particularly if you have dependents, now may be the time to meet with your estate attorney and ensure your will, trusts, and other documents are up-to-date and in keeping with your wishes. It may feel overwhelming at first (especially with everything else on your mind), but a qualified and compassionate lawyer can help you break it into manageable tasks. Knowing your financial plan is in order gives you peace of mind to focus on your treatment and healing.

Seek support groups

A cancer support system — which can be found online, through in-person groups or with friends and family — provides individuals with cancer and their families with information, support, and hope. They can provide a sense of community, which can be beneficial during a difficult time. Additionally, support systems can offer individuals access to information about cancer and treatment options.

Bottom Line

A cancer diagnosis can be devastating in so many ways. The financial stress can affect your quality of life and even your recovery, but with basic financial planning and help it doesn’t have to. While the above tips are some of the ways to prepare and cope with an adverse diagnosis, the important thing is to lean into people and organizations that can offer support.

Bennett C. Whitlock III, CRPC®, is a Private Wealth Advisor and CEO with Whitlock Wealth Management, a private wealth advisory practice with Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC. He specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for 28 years. To contact him visit, call 877-WHITLOCK or email Offices are located at 12848 Harbor Dr, Ste 101, Lake Ridge, VA 22192 and in Downtown Historic Manassas at 9073 Center Street, Manassas VA 20110


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