Seeking Support to Address Financial Concerns Is Key Following a Cancer Diagnosis

CURE spoke with an expert to discuss financial toxicity and the important of seeking support after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
BY Kristie L. Kahl
PUBLISHED August 23, 2019
After hearing the words, “You have cancer,” finding someone who can listen and help to digest this news is key, according to Dr. Allison Forti.

CURE spoke with Forti, who is an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Counseling at Wake Forest University, about resources that patients can use to address their financial concerns following a cancer diagnosis, and the important of support groups.

CURE: What are the most common financial questions patients and survivors typically ask?
Forti: What tends to come up is how distressing finances are. Even if you have health insurance, once you're diagnosed with cancer and start treatment, it's extremely challenging for most people to pay for cancer treatment. Prescriptions are expensive, inpatient services are expensive, outpatient care is expensive. So even if you have great insurance that is covering 80% of the expenses, you're still left with 20% of a big number, which is a lot of money.

It's helpful to think about the financial impact on cancer survivors, in that it hits people in so many different ways. Some cancer survivors aren't able to work, or they have to reduce their hours. And if they're the primary breadwinner, this is particularly distressing. And so, if a cancer survivor is distressed and worried about money, this is heartbreaking. There are just a lot of different emotions and thoughts swirling around in most cancer survivors’ minds related to finances. So, they question, “What do I do about this? How do I cope with this?”

A cancer diagnosis comes with a lot of stress, what can patients do to keep calm and feel less burden with this new normal?
The first thing to do is seek support. I think that's a big one. Cancer can be very isolating and even if you have a lot of friends and family, it can feel isolating for somebody because it's extremely common for cancer survivors to tell me, “Nobody understands, they don't know what I'm going through.” But being around other people who are going through the same thing is very helpful. So, seek support from counselors and from support groups.

I would also say to engage in self compassion. It's easier to go through a difficult experience when you're also kind to yourself. Self-compassion is really important. You can't necessarily be the best worker or the best parent, the best family member when you're going through cancer treatment, and that's okay. So, so self-compassion is critical.

I think mindfulness is important, too, to be aware of what you're experiencing. As soon as you're diagnosed with cancer, things happened quickly. So all of a sudden, you're still processing the shock of being diagnosed with cancer. Whether things are happening very quickly or there's a delay, I think it's important to be mindful of what it is that you're experiencing because it makes it easier to hope. It's important to become as educated as you can about your cancer diagnosis and, as it relates to finances, just increase your overall health care literacy, to take the time to really understand your insurance policy, understand what your insurance will cover, not cover, understand what the resources are at your hospital and in your community.

What is your biggest piece of advice for someone facing a cancer diagnosis?
I would say find somebody who will listen, whether that's a counselor, a friend or a family member, pastor. Somebody who will listen to you and help you process your own experience.

I personally think it should be part of your standard treatment protocol to meet with a counselor at least once. Once you've been diagnosed, it can be so healing to have another human being who understands what you're going through. And then, really listen and hear what it is that is going on for you once you've been diagnosed Find somebody who will listen, that would be my biggest piece of advice.
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