Money: The Dark Side of Cancer


No matter how expensive treatment was, we didn’t want to put a price tag on my sister’s life.

Of all the important things about cancer, money should fall very last on that list, if at all. Sadly, that is not reality and money does matter. A data study by the American Academy of Cancer Research says that 87 percent of people diagnosed face some kind of finical insecurity during the course of treatment. Of those 87 percent revisited after remission, a startling 58 percent stated they still experienced some degree of financial burden because of the diagnosis.

When my sister was diagnosed, money was something that we did not talk about. We all knew that cancer wasn’t a cheap illness to have, but we also knew that money wasn’t where our focus needed to be. No matter how expensive treatment was, we didn’t want to put a price tag on my sister’s life. It is a sad but true statement.

My sister’s cancer care from diagnosis through transplant came to total of over $1 million. Even now, due to the many complications that came with cancer, her care still requires more money than the average person spends on medical care. In truth, she will most likely never pay off all the medical debts within her lifetime.

See the thing is, money is the dark side of cancer. Many who may not have gone through cancer may think that cancer is the dark side of cancer. But I, too, am guilty of thinking that. And yes, I know for somebody who is usually quite optimistic, this point may be slightly more pessimistic compared to some of my other writings.

Nobody gets the choice to be diagnosed with cancer. It is simply one of those life events that happens to us. It’s one of those occurrences that is beyond our control and we just have to find a way to cope and make it through, no matter the outcome. My family, as well as so many others, did and do just that. And as things got worse, we hunkered down and did the best we could.

When transplant was brought up, they gave us a list of specialists and coordinators that would help us to best navigate what was yet another unfamiliar process. Down towards that bottom was a “financial coordinator.” I would like to take a moment to say, I loved our coordinator. Mrs. Lisa Dowd was the sweetest person and to this the day, a friend. That being said, it angered me that in the midst of trying to save my sister’s life that we were once again thinking about money.

As the data above suggests, my sister is far from alone in the monetary struggle associated with cancer. While she was transplanting, I met a husband with two young sons who also happened to be in need of a bone marrow transplant. His chance of survival wasn’t much better than he called “50/50 odds.” We began to talk about what he was going to do, and not long into the conversation he began to talk about finances.

While I knew the honesty in what he was saying, as he spoke, I couldn’t help but to be saddened by what he was saying. Here was a young man, not even 40 years old, facing losing his life to cancer. His young boys would possibly grow up not knowing their father, yet he and his wife were discussing not going through with a life-saving transplant because of the possible debt that she may have if he didn’t survive.

I am happy to say that nearly two years ago, he did go through with his transplant at University Colorado Health and he remains in remission. In fact, in July of this year, his sons will be welcoming a baby sister into the family. On a daily basis, they reap the benefits of the choice that they made to go through with his transplant. And, much like my family, they will most likely never pay off the debt incurred from the bone marrow transplant that saved his life.

To me, it a sad reality that something like money plays such a huge factor when it comes to cancer. And none of the above is to say that one should not seek care. It is not to say that anything that we did or may do to treat my sister was or is not worth it. Because without any doubt, it is and always will be worth it. It is simply to highlight the reality that is the financial burden that comes with cancer.

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