On Sunday night, 60 Minutes aired a story about the astronomical costs of cancer drugs and the short- and long-term financial implications for the patients who have no choice but to take them. Dr. Leonard Saltz and Dr. Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan-Kettering talked about how cancer is a leading cause of bankruptcy, how patients are taking half-doses or skipping meds altogether due to the cost, and how “financial toxicity” should be considered a side effect of cancer treatment.
While I’m exceptionally glad that this topic is finally being discussed publicly, it’s not news to us.
Ever since 2005, when we at The SAMFund awarded our very first grants, we’ve heard the same story every year: cancer isn’t free. On top of that, it’s uniquely difficult for young adults, who lack the resources, savings, and employment history of older generations, or the support, parental health insurance and safety net that children normally have.
Young adults in their 20s and 30s face a series of challenges in today’s economy to begin with (the high cost of living, a competitive job market, all stuff you already know). For those who have faced a cancer diagnosis, those struggles are compounded by stacks of medical bills, drained savings accounts and harassing calls from bill collectors threatening to garnish wages and freeze assets. It is not only financially but also emotionally and psychologically overwhelming.
By the time these individuals come to us for help through our grants program, they are in dire straits. The costs of cancer have forced them to make impossible decisions between rent and food, or decide which appointments to keep and which to cancel, and which bills to pay now and which to postpone. Many have considered (or already filed for) bankruptcy, have cashed in their retirement accounts and/or are defaulting on loans because the ongoing bills are too overwhelming. We hear from young adults whose careers have been derailed due to physical, cognitive or other aftereffects from treatment, but who lack the resources to go back to school to choose a different career path. Most alarmingly, we hear from those who are skipping medical appointments or, as showcased in the 60 Minutes piece, not taking their medications at all because of the cost.
The 60 Minutes story was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cancer community and the effects of drug costs on young adult survivors. While this issue is pervasive and challenging to patients of all ages, it’s important to understand and validate the unique struggles of young adults so that they feel better supported, less isolated and less afraid.
At The SAMFund, we’re doing the best that we can to address this problem and help young adults regain their footing so that recovering financially from cancer doesn’t become a lifelong process. In addition to our grants program (through which we’ve distributed $1.1M since 2005, with an additional $250K being awarded next month!), we are:
- Providing a free Webinar series, called “Moving Forward With Your Financial Health,” to give our audience (including young adults, caregivers, medical providers and others involved in the young adult cancer community) information and guidance to overcome the cancer-related financial challenges they face. We have a two upcoming Webinars: the first on October 21 with Brandeis University’s Director of Financial Aid, entitled “Going Back to School Post-Cancer: The Pros, Cons and Hows,” and the second on November 11with Triage Cancer’s COO Monica Bryant, entitled “Smart Shopping: Tips on How to Pick the Best Insurance For You.”
- Working on a paper which we will present at the annual Critical Mass conference in November, tentatively titled, “The Cost of Cancer: A Retrospective Analysis of the Financial Impact of Cancer on Young Adults.”
- Working with Triage Cancer on a financial resource toolkit for young adult survivors, to help them become better informed and feel more empowered about the financial decisions they make during and after treatment.
We need your support to continue to raise awareness of this issue. Our healthcare system is broken and young adult cancer survivors – and cancer survivors of all ages – are suffering the consequences. We need to continue challenging those who put the price tag on drugs and other medications and applaud the efforts of those like Dr. Bach and Dr. Saltz who are trying to blow the whistle on this unfair – and arbitrary – process of pricing treatments. We need you by our side, so that cancer patients don’t have to face their uncertain financial futures alone.
Cancer-free doesn’t mean that cancer IS free. As we well know, it is quite the opposite. It’s a good thing people are finally talking about it – let’s keep the conversation going.