There are resources available to help you cope with financial stress of cancer, whether it's you or a loved one facing the disease.
Diana M. Martin has been an adjunct professor in The Writing and Reading Center at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD, for over 15 years. She has a MFA in Creative Nonfiction and has published articles in the areas of parenting, health and cultural arts. When her husband lost his battle with cancer of unknown primary, later identified as bile duct cancer, she became the sole caregiver for their adult son, Alex, who is autistic.
Whether it is you or a close family member who receives the diagnosis, eventually most people wonder: How are we going to survive financially?
It's been almost four years since my husband passed away, and I still have moments of insecurity when it comes to me being the sole breadwinner. We survived on his salary and health insurance while I worked part time and cared for our son with autism. While he was in treatment, all of that changed.
After the diagnosis, the first financial step we took was to notify his place of employment. Luckily for us, he had saved up vacation and sick leave. The organization he worked for had a program where people could donate their leave to help others in need. We took advantage of the program. Keeping him on the payroll was essential to our survival. His supervisor also allowed him to work from home when he could. This were blessings that I know are not available to everyone. And even with this good fortune, I knew it wouldn't be enough to keep us afloat.
The next step I took was to contact the social worker affiliated with the oncology practice. This was a free service that was offered to patients. Most oncology practices have someone who can help patients not only with the emotional strain, but with resources to ease the financial stress that often comes with such a devastating diagnosis. I made an appointment with that person and told her that we needed help. She signed us up for a free meal service that helped families in the county whose pay was under a certain amount. Since I had taken time off from my job to care for my husband, we qualified for that program. I had never thought that we would be in this position, but I am glad that I swallowed my pride and spoke up. This program was a lifesaver.
Then she provided me with a list of local resources to call. Some provided small grants, others provided gas cards, free transportation, and stipends for medication. I had more luck with local organizations that were familiar with the cancer treatment center and were already serving families in need there. After joining a support group, one of the members offered to create a GoFundMe page for us. We raised almost $20,000 through the efforts of family and friends.
After talking to some of my colleagues where I worked, I was able to apply for an assistance grant through my workplace and friends at my husband's job also donated money. Because our son had autism, I contacted the local and state autism organizations and received additional grants. I told all our creditors that we were in financial distress. Some lowered or deferred payments. In addition, we took out a "no health questions asked" inexpensive short-term life insurance policy for $2,000 that ended up paying for the funeral.
I was raised to keep family matters private. However, one of the best decisions I made during this time was to not be embarrassed to ask for help. It was humbling and uncomfortable. I was not even used to asking people to pray for us, but I did. And people did so much more. What I discovered is that in times of real need, even strangers notice and are willing to lend a hand. You just need to speak loud enough for them to hear.
Almost four years after my husband's death, I am still surviving financially due to the grace of God and some of these decisions. I've had to rely on life insurance and personal savings. I have had some health setbacks that I know I will have to get through on my own. I worry about my son's future after I am gone and have created a special needs trust for him. I also belong to Widowcare, an organization that has helped me deal with these issues and meet other widows and widowers who face the same problems. I am gradually coming out of what was once a bleak financial future to face a new reality that is neither better nor worse than the old one.