Six Tips for Finding Financial Aid for Cancer Patients

“Twenty-seven THOUSAND, six-hundred and six dollars?” my voice inched up the panic scale as I read the number out loud to an empty room and the kitchen table. “For ONE infusion of Rituximab?” I checked the number again, then flipped to the last page of the 25-page hospital bill. “That would explain the pharmacy bill of $135,870.25,” I muttered. And the total hospital bill for a 28-day stay of $249,190.38. I wondered if someone offered financial aid for cancer.

6 tips for finding financial aid for #cancer treatment http://wp.me/p2UZoK-4i via @blestbutstrest #caregiver

At the time, Rituximab was an new drug.

Financial Aid for Cancer Patients?

I actually took this bill to the hospital to verify the amounts.

I actually took this bill to the hospital to verify the amounts.

Despite the fact that we had excellent insurance, the reality of how much the hospital charged for one infusion of a chemotherapy drug a came as a shock. If we didn’t have excellent insurance, my husband would be dead.

Tears of gratitude coursed down my face. As a teacher, I often grumbled over the long hours and the low pay (in one state I worked in, I made $20.00 too much a month to qualify for welfare). I would grumble no more, because the life-ring of health insurance surely offset any hours of overtime and playground duty I ever grumbled about.

Tears of sorrow mixed with the other tears, too. What about all the people who didn’t have health insurance and had cancer in their family? I could scarcely pay the bills each month, much less keep up with co-payments and our portion of the astronomical bills.

Did hospitals treat patients based on whether or not they had insurance? Did they reserve the really good drugs for those with really good insurance? Maybe I didn’t want to know the answer to that question—the stress of trying to hold everything together squeezed me on a daily basis and followed me like a black cloud wherever I went.

Living on Credit

Every time I presented a credit card to pay for a plane ticket to race to my husband’s side when his condition worsened I repeated my new mantra, “At least I don’t actually have to pay that quarter million dollar hospital bill!”

I repeated it as I plunked down my credit card to buy a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a clean change of undies because I had ended up a thousand miles from home without those important items. I repeated it when I plopped down my credit card (a different one this time because the other was maxed out) to pay for a hotel room for Pedro and I while we awaited the results of that morning’s stem-cell harvest (where was the Ronald McDonald House for grown-ups, I wondered).

While I could ignore the reams of paper representing the hospital charges, I had a harder time ignoring the fat credit-card bills that came like clockwork (whether I could pay them or not). 

Friends and Family: The First Line of Defense

Fortunately, friends and church members started a fund to cover travel costs so my parents could bring our daughters down for a (last?) visit—twice. But the other expenses kept adding up. We had NEVER lived an extravagant lifestyle. We drove old cars and dined at Taco Bell once a month. Vacations meant gas for the vehicles and camping instead of staying in hotels.  We furnished our house with hand-me-downs, garage sale bargains, and fleamarket finds.

It took us twelve years to pay off the debt associated with cancer.

Doing Cancer Differently

Would I have ‘done’ cancer caregiving differently if I had know how long it would take to pay off the debt? Most likely. I would have spent more time researching ways to receive financial aid and support from a wider community. Since those days, I’ve discovered that some organizations, such as Cancer Care, offer FREE counseling services—over the phone, even! Other organizations assist with travel expenses and prescription co-payments.

The situation differed for my blogging partner, Carol Bovee. Hospital staff made sure to offer financial aid advice from the beginning, but she and her husband were so focused on their son’s recovery that the offers didn’t register. They felt that their son’s life-or-death situation required all of their attention.

As life settled into the routine of treatment (a three-year process), just balancing their jobs, their son’s treatment and spending time with their other children provided enough challenges—they didn’t have time to seek out financial aid and free trips to Disney, nor the energy to fill out the applications.

Six Ideas for Finding Financial Aid

1. Find a key person to do the research for you. When you receive a diagnosis, people want to help out. Find a trusted friend or family member who loves research. Let THAT PERSON find the applications for financial aid, and then all YOU have to do is look them over.

2. Ask the hospital social worker. They know of any financial assistance available through the hospital or other organizations—then pass the applications on to your key person to fill out and keep track of.

3. Take advantage of free counseling and support services.  Trust us. You may think that you’re handling things ‘just fine,’ but a safe person to vent to is invaluable for YOUR emotional health and wellbeing.

4. If you are part of a faith community, talk to the pastor or reverend about financial assistance. If you aren’t comfortable asking, ask your point person to have that talk.  A friend from a different faith community actually alerted HER church and they gave us enough money to get a lap top computer for Pedro so that he could video chat with our girls during his long absences.

5. If someone wants to throw a fundraiser for your loved one—let them do it! People WANT to help. Even if you have good insurance, the cost of fuel, missed work, co-pays and other incidentals add up. When your season of caregiving is over, you can help someone else.  Perhaps your point person for financial aid would be willing to organize a fundraiser.

6. Launch a Go Fund Me Campaign. A friend of ours who had a similar diagnosis as Pedro’s successfully raised over $20,000 to pay off the portion of his bills and expenses that his insurance didn’t cover.

Resource List

These organizations have information about financial aid or services for cancer caregivers and patients. If you know of a resource that should be added to the list, email me the link at: info@blessedbutstressed.com so that we can include it!

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

Cancer Care

Give Forward provides an easy-to-use online fundraising campaign platform with ideas on how to make it successful.

 Candlelighters for Children with Cancer  Childhood cancer help with local decision makers.

Children’s Miracle Network -provides national support done at the local level as well (local fundraisers through national chains).

.Check out gofundme.com for more information (this isn’t the only website that does this–it’s just the one I have personal knowledge about).

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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  • As with so many other things, you can’t really understand all the ramifications of a loved one having cancer until you or someone you know goes through it. Thank you for presenting this little window, and I’m glad to know these resources, just in case.
    Doree Weller recently posted…Where The Red Fern Grows- A ReviewMy Profile

  • I can’t imagine a hospital bill of that magnitude!!! I couldn’t even fathom paying mine for the week stay, and it was WAY lower than that.

    Thank you so much for posting these ideas; it’s something to keep hand for any situation where there will be large debt.!
    Barbara recently posted…RJD Day 18 Prompt – God’s Providential CareMy Profile

  • Wow. That number is shocking. One of my best friends had cervical cancer. Luckily she lived to tell the tale. This article reminds me to be grateful for still having her around. We are both of Finnish nationality and in Finland all her treatment was completely free right down to counselling etc. Sometimes us Finns take it for granted that we can just walk in to the hospital and get treated for free when a disease visits our lives. Articles like this put things into perspective. I’m glad that your husband made it. Thank you for sharing!

  • Excellent article and resource Anita! We haven’t dealt with your exact situation, but a long term hospitalization after a head injury. The best advice is to get someone who wants to help to be your point person. I love that. That would be such a relief and help in many health situations. Thanks for posting!
    Robyn recently posted…Recipe For Getting Picky Eaters to Eat VeggiesMy Profile

  • This is such a great resource for anyone who is going through cancer. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully I will never need to know this information, but now I know where to find it.
    Amanda recently posted…Acronyms in AfghanistanMy Profile

    • Oh, I hope you never go through it either! I used to be like an ostrich–I didn’t want to hear about cancer, think about anything bad, and just ignore it all. But, now I realize my journey would have been a bit easier if I would have had some basic information beforehand!
      Anita Ojeda recently posted…Six Tips for Finding Financial Aid for Cancer PatientsMy Profile

  • Oh yeah. I am all too familiar with all the medical costs and I have had the exact same thoughts as you. When my brother was diagnosed with cancer thank the Lord that they had good insurance, but like you I just wonder how the system doesn’t just collapse! Even when it is covered someone is paying it and I won’t go into what that means politically, but your tips are very helpful. Thankfully there is a person on staff at my daughter’s school that is a financial advisor and she has helped us get lined up with the right people and organizations. Money is the last thing you want to be thinking about when a loved one goes through this, but it’s a reality when it comes to treatment.
    Messy Mom recently posted…Valentine’s CraftMy Profile

  • Wonderful information – you have not because you ask not!
    Debra Alexander recently posted…Day 24 – Fear Not – Obey in the Land of the EnemyMy Profile

  • Anita,
    Just wow…I can’t imagine how hard it must be to deal with such horrific medical expenses along with the rest of life while being concerned about a loved one…Thank you for redeeming your experience by helping others…many blessings to you and your family 🙂 So glad Pedro is well now.
    Dolly@Soulstops recently posted…Top 10 things I learned in January 2015My Profile

    • Our insurance covered most of those expenses–it was the traveling and staying in hotels during out-patient procedures and the other ‘incidentals’ that really killed us. I don’t know what we would have done if he had used up the 3 million life-time cap (he came close) before he went into remission. God is good. That didn’t happen!

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  • I’m imagining how are you getting by from the gargantuan amount of fees for your loved one. You’re an amazing person Anita, for bearing and going that far for your love for Pedro.

  • It would be nerve-wracking to learn about the bill if I was in your shoes. Thank goodness you found a way to cover everything. And thank you so much for the tips Anita, I find it very helpful. May God bless you and your family.
    KimberlyGayeta recently posted…TestMy Profile

    • Thanks for stopping by, Kimberly! We finally finished paying all of our cancer bills this summer. Incredible how long it takes.

      • That’s awesome news! I hope for you husband to have a quick recovery.

  • I can’t imagine the financial strain that comes with having a loved one diagnosed with cancer. The biggest medical bill we’ve had thus far was my $13,000 bill for a failed induction and cesarean section with my daughter. My friend’s husband was just diagnosed with cancer, though, and they are really struggling. I’ve been looking for ideas that are a bit outside the box to help them, and I think that doing the research for them like this article suggests would take a huge burden off their shoulders. Thanks for giving me a way to help them!