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Breast Cancer: The Costs of Chemotherapy

Hidden Costs of Chemotherapy

Hidden Costs Overview

For many women, the financial costs of chemotherapy can be just as frightening as the treatment itself. But typical costs incurred during chemotherapy go beyond just medical expenses. There are also hidden costs. These costs are associated with helping you manage your life and activities while on chemotherapy.

You’ll have additional needs as you go through chemotherapy. From transportation to childcare, these out of pocket expenses can add up quickly. Being prepared and knowing strategies to help you save money can make the process less burdensome, both for you and your bank account.

Here are some things you may need to think about and consider about the hidden costs. As with almost any choice, the decisions you make may range from some hidden costs ($) to many hidden costs ($$$).

1. Transportation & Location

Hidden Cost: You will be visiting the chemotherapy facility multiple times during your treatment. Depending on the location, costs may escalate.

  • $ If your facility is near your home, your out-of-pocket travel expenses may be minimal. Public transportation, if available, can save you money and may make your commute easier. Instead of buying individual tickets, check if there are discounted monthly passes. Many facilities also have shuttle services to help you get from one treatment site to another.
  • $$ If the treatment facility is further from your home, you may be faced with extra driving time. Angel Wheels to Healing, a non-profit charity, may be able to offset the cost of your extra travel with prepaid gas cards or commercial ground transportation such as Amtrak or Greyhound. If you’re on Medicaid, you may be able to receive a reimbursement for your travel costs. Ask your facility if they offer or work with outside services to help you get to and from your treatments. The American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program also provides transportation if you don’t have a ride or are unable to drive.
  • $$$ You may be hesitant or apprehensive about traveling a long distance to get to your treatment facility. But for one reason or another, many women decide that an out-of-state facility is the right choice for them. Of course, this decision comes with extra expenses. Organizations like Angel Flight, a volunteer non-profit organization that arranges flights for medical treatment free of charge, may be able to assist you. Similar organizations include Air Charity Network, LifeLine Pilots, and Mercy Medical Airlift. Another option is the National Patient Travel Center (NPTC), which can help you find a program to assist with your travel costs. Ask if your facility provides airport transportation services or hotel drivers.

2. Accommodation

Hidden Cost: Where you will be staying or living during your treatment is another hidden cost that depends on the location of your facility. While staying at home may be the most comforting to you, it may not be an option if your facility is far away.

  • $ If your facility is in a location that is not near your home, think about reaching out to family members and friends. They may be able to accommodate you as a temporary houseguest. The American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodges provide a free place to stay for patients and caregivers.
  • $$ Finding a long-term temporary place can be tricky. Joe’s House is an online resource that can guide you through the process. You may be able to stay at a hospitality home, which is an accommodation rented out by the owner just for cancer patients. Go to the American Cancer Society’s resource page to find what is available. The American Cancer Society also offers free or reduced rates through Extended Stay America hotels.
  • $$$ If your facility is out of state, you may need to stay in a hotel for a longer period. Extended stay hotels or residences may be more cost effective, especially if they have the advantage of fully furnished kitchens and living areas. Other options include “rental by owner” facilities, available through sites like VRBO, Homestay, and Airbnb. It’s also worth asking your facility or speaking with your case manager if any local hotels offer deals or discounts to cancer patients.

3. Childcare

Hidden Cost: You may need childcare support when undergoing treatments. Alternately, there may be times when you simply don’t have the energy or are experiencing side effects that make it difficult to care for your children.

  • $ If you have family or friends that live nearby, you may be able to ask them to watch your children or help with childcare responsibilities. Keep in mind that childcare doesn’t have to be full days or weeks. Even a few hours here and there can give you enough time and space to rest and recover. You can also take advantage of daycare and school friends and families. Co-sharing or switching between childcare and play dates can alleviate some of the pressure of focused care.
  • $$ Support groups within your community — for instance, local schools, church groups, and volunteer organizations — may also be able to help if you need childcare assistance. There may even be a group specifically for children whose parents have cancer. The Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition can assist you with finding something in your area. Public programs offered by your local library or YMCA are other free or low-cost options. You may also be able to sign your children up for afterschool programs, extracurricular activities, or sports teams.
  • $$$ There may be times when you need long-term or extended childcare. This may be the case if your facility is out of state and you, your spouse, and other family members are away from home. CancerCare and the Patient Advocate Foundation, two cancer support services, may be able to provide financial assistance to help offset this expense.

4. Food/Meals

Hidden Costs: You may have to budget more money for the cost of food. There will probably be times that you simply don’t have the energy to prepare meals and have to eat out or buy higher-priced prepared frozen meals.

  • $ Take advantage of the days you’re feeling well to prepare for the days that you aren’t at your best. Utilizing a slow cooker or making extra portions of a meal and freezing them are easy ways to stay on track with your eating habits. Enlisting your family in helping out in the kitchen can also be beneficial and can help your loved ones feel some sort of responsibility. Often, concerned neighbors and coworkers will volunteer to bring food. Take Them A Meal and Meal Train help organize your support team so there is a consistent schedule of meals.
  • $$ Even if you enjoy cooking, there may be some days when preparing a meal is just not feasible. Meals to Heal delivers chef-prepared meals tailored to your nutritional needs. Cuisine for Healing is another service that provides healthy and fresh meals.
  • $$$ You may find it’s necessary to see a registered dietitian or a nutritionist to help evaluate your dietary needs. Your facility may be able to provide these resources to you. If you find that you’re unable to go to the grocery store, a delivery service through Peapod, Amazon Fresh, or Safeway may be helpful.

5. Appearance

Hidden Costs: Due to some side effects of chemotherapy, you may experience changes in your appearance such as hair loss, weight gain or loss, and nail discoloration. Hidden costs may be associated with managing your appearance during chemotherapy.

  • $ Hair loss is a typical side effect. While some women are comfortable with this adjustment, many women seek out head coverings. Your doctor may be able to write a prescription for a wig that can generally be paid for by your insurance. The American Cancer Society also provides free wigs through Wig Banks, while Good Wishes sends free scarves. Websites such as Look Good Feel Better provide tips for how to cope with your changes in appearance. The non-profit Fabulous and Fighting collects donated clothes and distributes them to patients at New York City hospitals. Your facility may know of a similar organization or service available in your area. Take advantage of secondhand or discount clothing outlets for new items.
  • $$ You may find that you’ll need to update your current beauty routine. Some cosmetic brands specialize in providing clinically proven products specifically for women undergoing chemotherapy.
  • $$$ Specialty items, such as customized mastectomy bras, camisoles, and breast prostheses, can be expensive necessities. Some of these products may be covered by Medicare and can be found on Tender Loving Care, an online store affiliated with the American Cancer Society. Cancer Be Glammed, another online store, sells practical but stylish clothes, such as pajamas and sun-protective clothing, to women undergoing chemotherapy.

6. Medications

Hidden Costs: From over-the-counter pills to doctor-mandated prescriptions, you’ll likely be spending more money on medications than before. Some of these may be used to help manage your side effects. Others will be used for your treatment itself.

  • $ Once you begin your treatment, you may find you need additional items to help you feel more comfortable. These may include ibuprofen for headaches, cold packs for pain or soreness, and sleeping pills for nighttime insomnia. But the cost of these simple remedies can start to add up. Ask your local pharmacy if they have a club savings, membership discount, or rewards card to help you save money.
  • $$ Many women also find they need to start taking birth control during their treatment. It’s still possible to get pregnant while you’re undergoing chemotherapy, even if your menstrual cycle is irregular or stops. Your health insurance may be able to cover the cost of birth control.
  • $$$ Just knowing what prescriptions you will need both during and after your treatment and creating a payment plan can help. Ask your oncologist what you should expect to take. It doesn’t hurt to ask about taking less expensive generic drugs. If you don’t have prescription coverage, check with the Partnership for Prescription Assistance or the HealthWell Foundation to see if you qualify for their assistance programs.

7. Pet care

Hidden Costs: Similar to your children, your pets may also need pet care while you’re going through treatment.

  • $ You may want to ask a friend or neighbor if they’re available to take care of your pet when necessary. Giving them a spare key to your house can be beneficial, especially if there’s ever a time that you unexpectedly have to stay at your facility overnight.
  • $$ If you don’t have someone that can care for your pet, online resources can help. Rover and Dog Vacay can assist you in finding a temporary dog sitter, while can help you find someone for your feline.
  • $$$ If you’re staying in a new place long-term, chances are your pet will also need new accommodations. Some Extended Stay America hotels are pet friendly, but you may have to pay an extra fee. Your regular veterinarian or vet clinic may also be able to watch your pet while you’re away.

While the costs of chemotherapy may be high, you shouldn’t feel like you have to battle it alone. Financial assistance programs like the Cancer Financial Assistance Coalition, The Pink Fund, CancerCare, the Patient Advocate Foundation, and Triple Step Toward the Cure, as well as other national and local organizations, are available to provide assistance with these additional costs. Knowing how to reach and use these services can help you concentrate on your road to recovery.

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