Approximately one in every eight women will develop invasive breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The disease puts patients and their loved ones under intense stress — and not just physical and emotional, but financial as well.

Even if insurance covers a substantial portion of medical expenses, cancer can challenge a household budget in other ways: reduced income, costly travel for treatment, clothing for a changing body and services like child care, house cleaning or home health care.

Whether the patient is you or someone you love, the last thing you want to do is cut corners. However, to manage these new expenses, you might have no choice but to economize in some areas of life. Consider how the following money-savers might relieve some of the burden.

Some employers allow employees to donate personal leave to co-workers dealing with a health-related emergency.


    Mail order can be a way to save money on medications, compared with a traditional walk-up pharmacy. Check with your physician and health plan about the medications you need and whether mail order will allow you to save money while getting the right prescriptions when you need them. Then, be sure to choose a reputable pharmacy, such as those recommended by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).


    If you’re unable to drive due to treatments or medications, you might be able to temporarily suspend your auto insurance. Call your agent to put the coverage on hold. When you’re ready to drive again, you can resume paying premiums to regain protection.


    Insurance is designed to protect your finances from hardship, so use what you have. If you have disability income coverage — whether your own or through an employer — and illness keeps you from work, that insurance may replace a percentage of your income for a while. If you have life insurance, ask your financial planner or professional how your policy might be of value during illness. If you have permanent life insurance, you may be able to withdraw some of the policy’s cash value to help pay for expenses.

    Also, some policies offer disability income protection. If illness keeps you out of work for an extended time (six months, for example), you might be eligible to stop paying premiums but keep your coverage intact. If that’s the case, you won’t have to make payments again until your doctor says you’re ready to return to work.


    Some employers allow employees to donate sick or personal leave time to co-workers who are dealing with a health-related emergency. If you work in such an organization and your colleagues are willing, you might be able to accumulate additional paid time off from their donations, thereby postponing disability leave, which often results in a substantial drop in income. Contact your HR or benefits department to see if this is an option.


    Through The Breast Cancer Charities, social workers and nurses can apply on behalf of their patients to the Help Now Fund, which provides up to $500 in housing assistance for people in active breast cancer treatment. Each month, this fund supports hundreds of women struggling to pay for basic expenses. To prove need, your application must include documentation that shows a past-due utility bill and/or rent.


    Cleaning for a Reason is a nonprofit organization that gives free house cleaning to women undergoing treatment for any kind of cancer. The organization’s goal is to let patients “focus on their health and treatment while we focus on, and take away the worry and work of, cleaning their homes — free of charge.” You can apply online to be matched with a local maid service.


    If you need someone to talk to — whether you’re dealing with your own diagnosis, caring for someone in treatment or learning to live in a household with cancer — free or affordable counseling might be just a phone call away.

    See if your employer offers an employee assistance program (EAP). EAPs help employees and their family members deal with personal issues, including health problems like breast cancer. Typically, the first few counseling sessions are free; then, if you stay in-network, your benefits may cover a portion of the cost for continued support. If you don’t have access to an EAP, seek out services such as CancerCare or the American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program.


    Search the web or ask your health care team about low- or no-cost resources designed specifically for cancer patients. Chicago’s LivingWell Cancer Resource Center, for instance, is a nonprofit organization that provides services such as counseling, fitness classes, massages and even kids’ camps for cancer patients, caregivers and their families, all at no cost. Similar centers, often affiliated with major medical centers, exist nationwide.


    Maybe a thoughtful friend or kind expert will proactively give you money-saving ideas like the ones listed here. (If you’re reading this and know someone dealing with breast cancer, please share.) But even your most compassionate friends may not be thinking about the financial aspects of illness.

    The surest way to get information is to ask. Tell friends and family you’re looking for affordable support and services. Get input from doctors, nurses, receptionists and even other patients. In your fight against the financial burden of breast cancer, honest questions and conversations — and the innovative options they reveal — may be your best defense.

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