Cancer care is not cheap, but for young adults with cancer, the cost of care goes far beyond medical bills, according to Samantha Watson, MBA, 2-time young adult cancer survivor and Co-Founder and CEO of the Samfund. Few resources in the United States are dedicated specifically to helping patients recover financially from cancer.
“Even though awareness is increasing about the direct costs of cancer, there’s still so little understanding and discussion about financial toxicity,” Ms Watson said at the 2018 Cancer Survivorship Symposium. “And on top of all of this, asking for help is hard, especially once you look fine.”
Ms Watson noted that cancer is a physically obvious disease, but survivors often find themselves struggling after treatment, when things are expected to go back to “normal.”
“You’re supposed to celebrate your survival and get on with your life, but that’s also when the bills come due. So it becomes that much harder to ask for help,” said Ms Watson.
According to a recent study, young adult cancer survivors—especially those in their mid- to late-thirties—are approximately $100,000 behind their peers in terms of average net worth. Cancer survivors are also >2.5 times more likely to declare bankruptcy. They skip medications and appointments because of the cost of treatment, they default on bills, which leads to damaged credit and garnished wages, and for young adults especially, their future fertility or ability to become a parent is compromised.
“Save fertility and family building, young adult survivors don’t face any issues that other age-groups don’t face,” Ms Watson noted. “The only difference is, we face them in unique ways, and we tend to face a lot of them at the same time.”
The Samfund was established in 2003, and has since awarded almost $2 million in grants to young adult cancer survivors to cover living expenses, medical expenses, health and wellness costs (ie, mental health services, physical therapy, gym memberships, acupuncture), and family-building services (ie, adoption; in vitro fertilization; donor eggs, sperm, embryos).
According to Ms Watson, the impact of providing financial support at the right moment goes far beyond young adult survivors and can affect their parents, children, spouses, and sometimes their entire communities.
For example, the Samfund helped a family whose car was nearly repossessed, which would have resulted in the patient missing medical appointments, missed work for the parents, and missed school for the children.
“The impact is so much greater than it appears on the surface,” Ms Watson said. “In the absence of that support, things could have looked a whole lot different for that family.”
Another Samfund grant recipient in her mid-twenties was able to get out of medical debt and went on to build a thriving business that teaches emergency preparedness and helps people facing natural disasters. “She’s an amazing human being who just needed a little bit of help at exactly the right time,” Ms Watson added.
More Is Needed
The need is great, and the Samfund is only one resource. Ms Watson urges improved communication between patients and providers to give survivors relevant, timely guidance and information, especially at critical decision-making points.
“By the time people come to us for a grant, they’re already in crisis,” Ms Watson said. “We can help them get out of crisis or begin to establish some forward momentum, but we really need providers to start these conversations earlier, so that they’re not blindsided when the bills come in.”
She also stressed the need for reducing the stigma around asking for help, and pushing for policy change and better protection for patients undergoing treatment.
“As a culture, we don’t like talking about money, and we don’t like talking about illness. Put the 2 together, and nobody wants to touch that. But it’s on all of us to make sure we’re keeping these conversations going,” she added.
“Money is critical, but even more valuable is the validation that we’re able to give to young survivors, that this is a real issue, that it’s not their fault, that there’s a community that supports them, and that together, we can make it better,” Ms Watson said.