Beware of Cancer Metastasizing to Your Wallet

Joanne Reed’s breast cancer was discovered at an early stage, early enough that her doctors would be able to remove the tumor with surgery (either a mastectomy or a lumpectomy) and then, with a touch of chemo, she would face a decent chance of living out her life without a recurrence.

But then Reed’s cancer metastasized to her wallet: “I was working full-time at the time [of my cancer diagnosis] and had pretty good insurance.  But I still had co-pays…anyway, I kept getting bills.”  And unfortunately, she kept getting bills at the same time as her income declined, because the treatments made it difficult for her to continue working: “So our income was cut in half.  And with a husband who is disabled [with schizophrenia]…and I had also had some credit card debt from the past…”

Reed is one of several dozen women who participated in a Duke study (led by an oncologist, Yousuf Zafar) on which I have been collaborating.  The study explores the financial burdens created by cancer diagnoses.  Reed spoke anonymously to our research team (Reed is a pseudonym) and her story is as tragic as it is routine.  Across our interviews, we discovered a wide range of medical and social circumstances impacting patients’ lives.  Some people had early stage cancers, others had more advanced disease; some people had health insurance and others didn’t.  But almost to a person, one fact was consistent across these patients—none of them expected that their cancer treatments would cause as much financial distress as they did.

Even people with decent health insurance may be one serious illness away from economic calamity…(Read more and view comments at Forbes)

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