Jun 18, 2009

let's talk about cancer and money


As I type this, laying flat on my back with a heat pack on my neck/back... I am thinking about all the other devastating ways that cancer ruins lives. I just read a financial blog posting about bankruptcy   and cancer and it forced me to think.

Its not enough to have a disease that could kill you, and its not enough to have treatments for the disease that make you feel like you're dying... cancer rips apart relationships by putting more strain on them than they can handle. Cancer also wrecks your financial future because the cost of treatment is enormous. If you're fortunate enough to have insurance through your job, the hit may be minimal. If you're not so lucky, or if you have to supplement your insurance with state/federal assistance... not only will you have to suck up your pride and grow some patience to get through the madness... you will be stuck with huge HUGE medical bills.

The number 1 reason for bankruptcy in this country is CANCER-related medical bills. At my last chemotherapy session, there was a gentleman sitting beside me who was paying for his treatment himself. I overheard the administrator talking to him about it when he asked how much his treatment cost for that day. I nearly fainted when she said that the total was over $16,000! For one day of treatment, almost twenty thousand dollars. Keeping in mind, depending on your cancer treatment you may need anywhere from 4 infusions to 20. Can you imagine? He asked about discounts for different things but he didn't qualify for any reduced prices because he wasn't using insurance. While insurance is helpful for all of us with it, insurance pays a reduced rate for the procedures, medications and treatments. For example, my chemotherapy infusions cost my insurance company $5000 each treatment. (just the infusion) Whereas this gentleman was going to pay triple that amount. Assuming that we were receiving similar treatments (from a financial perspective)... that's a drastic difference.

I don't know how they (the man and his wife) paid. He seemed stoic and calm when the administrator was talking to him. The wife seemed much more nervous. I wasn't involved and I wanted to cry.

And that's just treatment. The other things that people don't tell you about is that once you find out that you have cancer, you need to change your entire life basically. What you eat, what you drink, what you bathe with... what lotions you use, what you use on your teeth... depending on where your cancer is... your clothing is different, maybe your teeth are affected and so on. EVERYTHING is different after the day you learn that you have cancer.

I'm going to talk about something really "silly" but important for me. Bras. As many of you know, before cancer I was spending a small fortune on my lingerie because my breasts were much larger than average. And since I'm a girl who fully appreciates and expects luxury... I bought the best and prettiest lingerie I could find in my size. That meant that while many sisters were scooping up deals at Victoria Secret's for $20 or less for a bra, Nicole was spending $100+ for one bra. I bitched and moaned about it to myself but it was my reality so I accepted it.

Fast forward to now. I can't wear the bras I used to wear. Not because of the size - I have a prosthesis that I could put into the regular bra to wear. But because of the underwire. Bras created for larger-breasted women almost always have underwire in them to provide support. I've been told that there are bras for larger breasts without underwire - though honestly, I haven't seen any yet.

I cannot wear underwire because its too constricting for my chest. Since the surgery, some of my chest area is numb. Underwire could rub, chafe and eventually cut my skin in my breast area because the skin there is still very fragile and sensitive. And numb. So I wouldn't feel the destruction taking place. My doctors -- each of them -- have warned me repeatedly not to wear underwire bras. So, I have beautiful lacy items that I may never get to use again. Waste of money. And int he meantime, I need to find new items to wear that fit well and appeal to my sense of style.

Drama. Its not just finding bras and then paying whatever price they cost just to have them. Its finding a massage therapist who knows how to work with cancer patients to assist in helping me to get my body back. Its finding a physical therapist to work with, to get my range of motion back. Its keeping lots of suncreen (spf 70) and bug spray around to protect my skin. Suncreen to protect my very fragile skin. And bug spray because the slightest infection in the arm that was affected by my surgery could trigger lymphodema.

And it goes on and on.

Yesterday I talked about my back pain and how its driving me crazy. It is. And I continue to push myself because I want as much of my life back as I can get. I hung out yesterday and am paying for it today. I knew when I decided to hang out that I was making a choice but I needed the time I spent with my friends, so I hoped that my back wouldn't protest too much.

Eh. Its hurting something serious today but I will force myself to get moving soon. I just want to feel like it won't get really worse today.

But all of that to say... it costs to be sick. Beyond the active treatment of your disease, there are considerations about your lifestyle that you have to consider.

So... when you talk to someone that you know is dealing with an illness, if you're in a position to help them -- buy a cup of coffee, or something like that -- pass that kindness along. Although we're all feeling the pinch in this recession, the pinch isn't the same for everyone.

I've been reading and researching diet changes and I don't know how I will afford to eat the way that so many people believe is best to keep my chances of cancer recurrence low. Whole foods, organic produce, etc. cost a lot of money. Juicing daily, though good for you, gets expensive. The herbal supplements and such... are not cheap. But it is a balancing act, where somethings go up in the budget, other things will have to come down. And some dreams may have to be washed away.

I haven't figured out what I will leave behind in order to make these other things happen. But something will. It has to. I am single with no children. I've read horror stories about women with breast cancer whose husbands left, leaving them alone, sick, scared and broke trying to raise healthy kids in the meantime. Some women have lost their homes, trying to be treated for breast cancer. I know that I've been bitter and angry about my relationship ending... but I do feel blessed that at least we weren't married and then broke up. As much as my heart has been broken, my finances were not affected by the dissolution of the relationship. Not to be callous, but that's a huge relief - I'm sure for both of us.

Thinking about planning for retirement while paying medical bills and adjusting to higher living costs... is where my head is right now. Having fun, squeezing it in when and where I can, is priority for me right now. When I close my eyes and think about the ways that my life is different today from a year ago, there is still a lot of anger there. But its not as much as was there 6 months ago. And 6 months from now, I pray that it will be even less.

It is a good day. :)

3 comments:

  1. I so hear you on this one. I have about 15 files of different bills related to treatment and surgery. My treatment is about $16,000 a month too. That is before insurance. I don't know how I'd pay for treatment without it. That must be some heavy burden to even think about. *sigh*

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  2. I was just going to blog about this topic myself!

    I just paid $7 for deodorant because I can't use the regular stuff during radiation.

    I am growing a patio garden to help with fruits and veggies.

    Talk to your doctor about the bras. I got 3 of them to use for now. I will eventually go out and buy some but it's another thing I am not worried about now. Talk to your insurance company too. My boobs are lopsided so it is hard to wear some of the tops I wore comfortably before. I'm using a lot of safety pins and such to keep things together!

    At my cancer center, massages are given for free. Look into that.

    All that to say, we are all in this together!

    Have a good day!

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  3. I did receive 1 lounging type bra after surgery from the breast cancer center at my hospital. And they acted like I was speaking a foreign language when I asked for it. The doctor who removed my drains told me to ask for it, so I did. At any rate... I'm over these unattractive no-support having garments. I want to feel pretty under my clothes again. Or as pretty as I can anyway.

    And the costs of all this natural stuff really makes me wonder if we're not giving ourselves cancer from some of this stuff that we use in abundance because its cheap. I'd worry about it more but... why? At this point, it is what it is.

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