When it Comes to Cancer, Financial Stress Can Be the Straw that Breaks the Camel’s Back

Coping With Caregiver Financial Stress

The physical and emotional impact of a mesothelioma diagnosis is staggering, and things can really intensify when there are also concerns about finances.

Since no two situations are the same, the financial impact on families dealing with mesothelioma will vary. However, it is often the case that the couple affected are of working age, and prior to diagnosis were both holding down full-time jobs.

In this instance, when it becomes impossible for the husband or wife to continue to work due to their illness and the partner has to stop working in order to care for them, it does not take long for the financial strain to appear.

Often, the couple have quite a bit of debt. They may be paying off a house loan, a car loan or both, and while this was not a concern when wages were coming in, it is an entirely different matter when neither of them is able to work.

Even if there is no debt, a substantial amount of money is needed to cover the general cost of living, including groceries, property taxes and utilities. If there are children involved, there are also school fees, uniforms and books to be considered.

Add to this the cost of medical services and treatments, which may not be fully covered by health insurance, and the whole situation can become completely overwhelming.

If some are fortunate enough to have savings set aside, this can help for a while, but savings quickly disappear and there is no way to replace them.

The High Cost of Cancer

Consider the following stats:

  • Based on rates from 2008-2010, 40.76 percent of babies born today will be diagnosed with cancer at some time during their lifetime.
  • U.S. medical expenditures for cancer in 2020 are projected to reach $158 billion, an increase of 27 percent over 2010.
  • Medical bills were involved in more than 62 percent of U.S. personal bankruptcies in 2007, an increase of nearly 50 percent from 2001, a team at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University reported recently.
  • The Harvard team also found that most people who file bankruptcy over medical debt are well educated and middle class; three-quarters have health insurance.

Financial stress can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, when it comes to caring for a loved one with cancer. Often, the caregiver, in an attempt to minimize stress for their loved one, takes on all of the financial worry and becomes so overloaded with stress that they wind up chronically ill themselves.

My Personal Experience

Brian was 52 years old when he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, and I was 49. We were living in Exmouth, in the far north of Western Australia, and were both working full time.

I was successfully running my own retail business, selling clothing, shoes and artifacts that I imported directly from Bali, and Brian was working at the local prawn factory.

Prior to his diagnosis, we had both intended to continue working full time until we reached retirement age.

Things had been going really well for us. My business was thriving and, with Brian’s regular wage coming in as well, we decided to purchase a new home.

Shortly after we signed the papers, we traveled to Bali and spent a substantial amount of money on new stock for my shop. The tourist season was approaching, and we were anticipating a very profitable few months.

Unfortunately, this was not to be.

Shortly after our return to Exmouth in November of 1999, Cyclone Vance hit the town, with recorded winds of 267 kmh (166 mph), the highest-ever wind gust measured on the Australian mainland. Exmouth was left looking like a war zone, with its residents wandering around shell-shocked.

It was a dreadful time, and up until Brian’s diagnosis, it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

Needless to say, our hopes of there being a few excellent months of tourist trade were dashed. The town of Exmouth was so damaged that it was declared a national disaster area, and entry to the town was closed until the damage could be repaired and residents and business owners could get back onto their feet.

During this time, the residents of Exmouth were only spending money on bare essentials, and for a good many weeks business for me was absolutely nil.

Regardless of this, there was still the high rent to be paid on my business premises, and this had to come out of Brian’s wages, along with all of our other living expenses.

One Tragedy After Another

1999 was to be the cruelest year of our lives. Just over one month after Cyclone Vance hit, Brian was diagnosed with mesothelioma and given three to nine months to live.

This changed everything for me, and I decided to sell my business so that I could spend every precious moment with Brian. Unfortunately, at that time, when it came to selling a business, there was no longer the option of including a monetary figure for “good will” (payment for the building up of a loyal customer base).

All I could do was hand over my business name to the buyer, along with all of my shop fittings and stock – at cost price.

Selling my stock at cost price represented a huge loss of potential earnings for me; added to this, it was hard to accept that all of the hard work Brian and I had put into sourcing and buying the stock in Bali had been for nothing. There was also the cost of travel and accommodation that we had paid for.

Far from being a holiday, our buying trip left both of us drained. Brian had seemed to be exceptionally tired, and knowing what I do now, I believe he already had mesothelioma.

Selling my shop was heartbreaking for me. I had built it up from scratch and was very proud of what I had achieved. It was also very sad for us to put our new home up for sale. We had been so happy to find such a beautiful home in Exmouth and had thought that all of our dreams were coming true.

Due to the urgency of our situation, we could not be choosy when it came to an offer on our house. We needed to sell quickly, so that we could buy a home in Perth, and we ended up losing out financially on this as well.

Once in Perth, Brian’s chemotherapy treatment began and there were several stays in the hospital over the following months. Not having private insurance, we initially had concerns about how we would pay for all of this, but fortunately (Australia’s) Medicare covered most of the medical bills and all of the chemotherapy treatments. Medications also became very cheap after we reached the safety net.

Since neither Brian nor I was able to work, we both received benefits from Centrelink, and though this didn’t allow for any extras, we did manage to get by. (Learn more about Social Security benefits in the U.S.)

Owning our own home helped to make this possible. If we had had to pay rent, as well as all of our other expenses, I don’t know how we would have survived.

Alleviating Financial Stress

The first thing to do when a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma is to talk to a qualified mesothelioma lawyer to find out if you can get any compensation from the company who was responsible for the asbestos exposure.

There is none better than Asbestos.com to advise you and support you during this process. Asbestos.com can help you select a qualified law firm for your needs.

Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to others. You never know who may be able to help you unless you ask.

Here is a list of other things that may be helpful:

  1. Contact any company to which you owe a debt, explain your situation and ask them if they can help you in any way. If it is a relatively small debt, you may find that some business will waive it. With larger debts, the companies may be agreeable to holding off payments that are due until such time as you are able to meet them – or at the very least, they may agree to reduce the monthly payment and extend the payment period over a longer period of time.
  2. Talk to your doctor about your financial concerns. They may be agreeable to reducing your fees.
  3. Use the Internet to find out which organizations are available to help people in your situation. Not-for-profit organizations have volunteers who will do all manner of things to help people, and there is no charge for their services.
  4. You can also use the Internet to look into how you may be able to manage and control your health care costs. Visit websites where there are online forums and an opportunity to communicate with people who are going through the same thing as you are. Ask questions, and you will be surprised at the amount of helpful information that fellow site visitors provide. The more you network, the greater the chance of finding some solutions for your problems.

So in short, reach out to others, from mesothelioma attorneys to the other resources mentioned above. You’ll never know if help is available until you ask.

You can leave Lorraine a comment below or on Facebook.


Lorraine Kember is the author of "Lean on Me," an inspirational personal account of her husband's courageous battle with mesothelioma. She is an accomplished public speaker in Australia and is passionate about sharing her journey with cancer. Her website can be found at www.lean-on-me.net

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