Financial Toxicity: The Burden That Lingers After Cancer

February 18, 2016
Samantha Eisenstein Watson, Founder, CEO, The Samfund

Vanessa is a 33-year-old survivor of stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She had $600,000 in medical bills when she finished treatment. Sounds like Monopoly money, right? This Samfund grant recipient said, “I had beaten cancer, but I didn’t even want to think about the future because I felt like [life] was already over.”

So many young adult cancer survivors feel the same way. Compounding the shock of the price tag is the fact that people in their 20s and 30s are generally just starting out professionally and expanding their lives through dating, marriage and starting families. Those three things cost money, take confidence, resources, good health, and a support system, and may seem impossible to young adult cancer survivors. I get it — I was there too, not so long ago. And I’m here to tell you that yes, it is scary and feels hopeless and even if you think no one will ever hire you, date you, or want to have a family with you, odds are that they will.

I myself am a two-time young adult cancer survivor. After my treatment for Ewing’s Sarcoma and secondary Myelodysplastic Syndrome (and a bone marrow transplant), I co-founded The Samfund in 2003 after realizing how little support existed specifically for young adults after treatment. In so many ways, it feels like we are pushed off a cliff at the end of treatment. The Samfund is here to catch you.

Our mission at The Samfund is to provide not only financial resources, information and a support community, but also hope that you can get out from under your bills. From young adult cancer survivors we constantly hear things like, “My doctor told me I was cancer-free, but I’m still paying for it.”

Too many young adults are scared, blindsided and broke. According to the Washington National Institute for Wellness Solutions, eight in ten cancer survivors who were diagnosed under age 50 had to use at least one additional financial resource other than their income to pay for treatments, versus 61 percent of those who were diagnosed between ages 50 and 65. Young people are particularly vulnerable because they have no savings, have student loans, make less than their older counterparts, and may have ruined their credit because they put their bills on a credit card they shouldn’t have been told to open in the first place.

Michael, a 38-year-old brain cancer survivor from Portland, Oregon, told us, “My family’s world was turned upside down by a brain tumor diagnosis, leaving me unable to work in my nursing profession. The Samfund’s grant for living expenses allowed us to minimize our financial burdens and focus on my recovery. We are slowly getting back on our feet and enjoying each new day to the fullest.”

As a matter of fact, as I write this, Michael was in the delivery suite with his wife awaiting the birth of their new baby! News like that is validation of our work to level the financial playing field for cancer survivors.

Over the past decade, we have seen young adults like Vanessa and Michael move forward with their lives. If you are reading this as a young adult cancer survivor, and feel like the only one in the world, take my word for it: you are not alone. Reach out to The Samfund or to another organization in your area or ask your social worker/nurse/patient advocate for resources. We’re here and we’ve got your back.