A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis can leave you and your loved ones feeling uncertain, anxious and overwhelmed. Breast cancer occurs when the cells found in the breast begin to change and grow uncontrollably, forming a tumor (also called a nodule), which can be either cancerous or benign. When breast cancer metastasizes, the cancer has spread beyond the breast and underarm area.
Metastatic breast cancer can present specific challenges. Unlike earlier stage cancers, which typically have a defined period of surgery or treatment, people with metastatic breast cancer are generally in ongoing treatment and may require frequent modifications to their regimen. Sometimes friends and family who were very hands-on around the time of your diagnosis may wane in their support as time passes. Many people with metastatic breast cancer look to outside professional supports or agencies who can supplement the emotional or practical support that they receive from friends and family.
Tips for Reaching Out and Taking Control of Your Finances
Multiple years of treatment can strain financial and emotional reserves. There are many local and national support services available to assist you. If you are considering reaching out for support, here are some tips to help make the process more manageable:
Assess what you need emotionally, practically and financially. Figuring out how much money is coming in to your household as well as how much you spend and what you spend it on may be a good start to assess your financial needs. Keep in mind that it’s okay to not know exactly what you will need all at once, and your needs will likely change throughout treatment. It can be helpful to write down your list, so you can keep track of your needs as they change.
Keep a record of your medical expenses and any communications related to your finances. This will help you anticipate and prepare for expenses related to your treatment and can be useful if you need to dispute a charge. In addition, staying organized can help make this information feel less overwhelming.
Talk to your health care team. Once you have an idea of what type of assistance you may need, find out who at your treatment team or hospital center can serve as a point person for locating and accessing resources. Oftentimes, patients and their families do not want to talk to their health care team about paying for treatment. However, talking to your health care team can help ensure that you have access to the treatments and support you need.
Keep track of important papers and make copies of commonly requested documents. Many people find it helpful to keep their records and paperwork in one place for easy reference. If you are seeking financial aid, organizations typically require proof of income, Disability/Social Security award letters, and/or recent pay stubs. Important documents may include:
- Copies of medical records
- Prescription information
- Health insurance records
- Disability insurance
- Long-term care insurance
- Veterans benefits
Finding Resources and Support
Finding and accessing support services can feel daunting. Remember: you do not need to call everywhere all at once. You may find it beneficial to use small chunks of time throughout the day to investigate resources rather than attempting to speak to multiple agencies or programs back to back. Here are a few resources that can help you get started.
Financial and Practical Support. There are many organizations that provide help with medical billing, insurance coverage, and reimbursement issues. There is also financial assistance available to help people who cannot afford the cost of their medications. A good place to start your research is the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (www.pparx.org). Also, read CancerCare’s publications, “Sources of Financial Assistance,” and “Managing the Cost of Cancer,” to find more information on financial assistance organizations.
Another resource is CancerCare’s A Helping Hand (www.cancercare.org/helpinghand). This is a searchable, online database of financial and practical assistance available for people with cancer. This comprehensive online tool features up-to-date contact information and descriptions for hundreds of national and regional organizations offering financial help to people with cancer. You can search by diagnosis, zip code and type of assistance.
Emotional Support. There are many organizations, such as CancerCare, that provide support services to help people affected by cancer. Individual counseling is available to help you learn ways to cope with the emotions and challenges raised by your diagnosis. Support groups can connect you with other patients in a safe, supportive environment. To learn more about CancerCare’s resources for coping with metastatic breast cancer, visit www.cancercare.org or call 800-813-HOPE (4673).
Edited by Stacy Lewis, MSW, ACHP-SW, LMSW