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Young adults with cancer can face many financial struggles, but the Samfund is there to help.
CANCER DOESN’T DISCRIMINATE, AND it most certainly doesn’t care what your financial status is. For young adults with cancer this can be an especially big problem, because these patients may not have jobs, health insurance or savings accounts to back them up when medical bills start arriving in the mail. Those are the areas in which The Samfund is helping young adults on a daily basis.
Samantha Eisenstein Watson started the organization in 2003, after surviving two battles with cancer. She was first diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in December 1999 and then with myelodysplastic syndrome in April 2001. Watson felt there was a void in programs and services tailored for young-adult cancer survivors after treatment, especially when it came to finances.
To date, the Samfund has awarded more than $1.6 million in grants to 777 applicants — a number Watson says is continuing to grow.
“One of the things that I am most of proud of is that we are hearing what people are telling us,” Watson said in an interview with CURE®. “We’re using this insight to not just give grants, but also to be proactive in developing programs to try to prevent some of these crises from happening in the first place.
The newest program is called Finances 101: A Toolkit for Young Adults with Cancer — or “The Toolkit.” The goal is that it will serve as an online decision-making resource for young adults before they run into financial trouble. For example, the first toolkit section that will be launched explains health insurance. This is an area that can be overwhelming for many young adults who are selecting plans for the first time. The toolkit will explain how to calculate the total annual cost of a plan (including premiums and deductibles), how to determine the best type of available coverage and how to compare plans. Ultimately, it will help users make well-informed financial decisions and maintain control over their finances before they find themselves in a crisis.
“We hear from a lot of young adults who can only afford the cheapest monthly plan because they have no money in the bank,” Watson says. “Then they come to us for a grant because they didn’t realize how high their deductible would be, and now they’re facing bankruptcy. This toolkit will help them anticipate costs earlier.”
Future topics for the Toolkit will include disability insurance and employment issues and will similarly help young adults understand their options and access the appropriate resources.
When it comes to the grant program, applications are accepted twice per year, in January and June. It’s a two-part application process, with funding requests first reviewed by volunteers who make recommendations. Those recommendations are then looked at by The Samfund’s board, which awards money to recipients in April and October.
Applicants must be between the ages of 21 and 39; residents of the United States; and either finished with active treatment with no evidence of disease, in remission on maintenance therapy, or experiencing stable disease at least a year after completing their planned therapy.
“There are so many more resources for people when they are actively in treatment,” Watson says. “It’s that time when you are sort of set free from that world that it feels like you’ve been pushed off a cliff and no one is there to catch you, so that’s why we focus on the aftermath.”
The allowed uses of funds are not limited to medical bills or prescription payments. The Samfund has helped pay rent, car insurance — even gym memberships. The sole requirement is that the expense a person is applying for must have been affected by his or her cancer.
“We are here to help,” says Watson. “If someone calls us looking for help and we’re not able to help with direct financial assistance, we will spend the time trying to find the right resource for them. We will find out when other organizations are accepting grant applications. We will take the extra step to help connect people to the resources that they need. Sometimes it’s us and sometimes it’s not, but we always try to make sure whoever is in touch with us feels well-supported.”