After receiving their cancer diagnosis, many people are immediately concerned about how they will manage the financial impact on their lives.
From diagnosis to treatment and through to recovery, there are many costs and charges, which collectively can all add up. These costs can vary significantly depending on your form of cancer, how advanced it is and the proposed treatments under consideration.
A Financial Dilemma
Typical health-related expenses include surgical fees, specialised equipment, medicines and a host of specialist consultant fees. Then there are additional therapy fees, together with child care, transport and even accommodation costs.
Simultaneously, you or your partner may be facing a significant drop in income if you or your partner has to take time off work.
Fear of the possible financial burden of a cancer diagnosis can be a significant source of anxiety at a time when you should be focused on your treatment and recovery.
How Cancer May Affect Your Income
How your cancer impacts your income usually depends on your personal circumstances. These vary from working on a casual or part-time basis, being self-employed or working full-time.
If you are actively in the workforce, consult your doctor as to how much time off you may potentially require or whether you might be able to work during your treatment program and recovery period. Most people who prefer to continue working throughout their treatment are usually able to do so to some degree.
If you are self-employed and have income protection insurance, check with your insurer. If you work either part or full time, consult your employer about sick and annual leave entitlements and see if they can explore flexible working arrangements.
If you have a partner or carer, they may be able to access leave entitlements from their employer in the form of unpaid leave or carer’s leave to look after you or to care for your children in your absence.
Managing Your Finances
If you find yourself struggling financially, discuss your situation with your doctor. They may be able to suggest ways to contain your medical costs, or they may be able to continue treating you as a public patient.
Your doctor can also refer you to a welfare officer or social worker for specialised advice. In some situations, where you have exhausted your financial resources, you may be allowed to tap your superannuation to pay for your treatment.
It is important to understand your financial situation as a first step in managing your medical costs. If you encounter financial hardship, early action can help stem the problem and reduce your anxiety. If you discuss your situation with your creditors, they may be able to access hardship provisions to assist you. Remember, the longer you wait before taking action, the worse your debts will become and the greater the strain may be on your relationships.
The Cancer Council has a referral service, which may be able to assist you. And there are specialist financial support services available to you.
Help Is Out There!
When your cancer diagnosis affects your finances, consulting a professional for advice can assist you to develop a strategy for managing your finances.
A financial counsellor will provide professional advice to help you manage your personal finances, particularly those on low fixed incomes. They can also act as your advocate and negotiator. Financial counsellors are not allowed to charge commissions or fees so their services are free to their clients.
The second group of financial professionals to consult are financial planners. These advisors provide investment advice to assist their clients to achieve their financial goals and manage their assets for a fee.
Dealing With Financial Stress
Financial problems are the leading cause of stress amongst Australians. Cancer patients have to not only manage the cost of their treatment but also juggle the income lost from having to take time off work.
For some people, financial stress can lead to heightened anxiety, depression, spark conflict with family members and potentially tip you into a financial crisis if you don’t deal with your financial stress.
Depression is common among people who have had cancer. If you struggle for motivation or experience difficulty getting up in the morning, you may be experiencing depression.
While seeking assistance with your finances can be a great first step, you may need to explore other options if you are finding it hard to cope emotionally. Consult your General Practitioner about medicine or ask for a referral to a counselling service. There may be a Cancer Council counselling program in your area. Check with your doctor if you are eligible for a Medicare rebate on counselling sessions.