Three Tips for Navigating Cancer & Your Finances

Cancer rights attorney and advocate, Joanna Morales, shares her advice for managing the financial impact and questions that accompany a cancer diagnosis.      

Most cancer survivors are unaware of their rights and the resources available to assist them through the vast maze of legal, employment, and insurance systems that can arise after diagnosis. And many of those individuals are completely unaware of the financial impact that cancer may have on their lives.  Fortunately, there are organizations and agencies to help cancer survivors and their families answer these questions and others.  Here are 3 tips as you start thinking about these issues:

Tip #1: Decide if you are able to work through treatment or take time off

The decision whether or not to work through treatment is a personal one and it may depend on your course of treatment, so it is a good idea to talk with your health care team when making this decision.  If you want and are able to work through treatment you can ask your employer for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or a state fair employment law.  The Job Accommodation Network is a program of the U.S. Department of Labor that helps employers and employees navigate the job accommodation process under the ADA.  Cancer and Careers is a nonprofit organization that specifically focuses on the practical issues related to work and cancer, including free job search tools, resume review services, and career coaching.

If you decide that you want to take time off either for a short or longer period of time, you may be eligible to take time off work under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  You may also have disability insurance benefits available to you through your employer, your state, or the Social Security Administration (SSA), which is the agency responsible for providing cash and health insurance benefits to individuals who are unable to work because of their medical condition, through two long-term disability insurance programs: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income.

Tip #2: Look into your health insurance options

Health care is expensive.  In addition to your monthly health insurance premiums, you may also have co-payments and co-insurance amounts that you have to pay when you get medical care or fill a prescription.  If you are uninsured or if you have insurance, but it is expensive, you can check out the new health insurance options (Medicaid or private insurance) available through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, by visiting or the Health Insurance Marketplace in your state.

Tip #3: Understand your consumer rights

Figuring out what your financial picture looks like can help you identify priorities (e.g., do you need to find a job, do you have a stack of bills that you have been too afraid to open, etc.).  Figuring out your next steps is entirely personal to your situation.  Consider talking with a financial planner.  Financial planners work with people of all income levels so don't feel like you don’t have enough money to utilize one.  Consumer credit counseling agencies can provide you with practical tools (e.g., financial calculators or budget worksheets) or help you negotiate payment plans or settlements with your creditors.  As a consumer, you still have rights.  Be aware that some debt solutions may negatively affect your credit score.

It is important to check that your medical bills are accurate, dispute them if there are problems, and if you believe a procedure or treatment should have been covered, and it wasn’t, you have the right to appeal that decision.  Talking with your creditors before they turn over your unpaid bills to collections agencies, can help protect your credit.  If you can’t make a payment, ask for more time.  Check to see if they would be willing to negotiate a payment plan or accept a lower lump sum payment.  There are also many financial assistance programs available in the cancer community that may be able to assist you.

Arming yourself with information about your legal, employment, insurance, and consumer rights –  getting assistance from these resources can help you manage the financial impact of cancer.

 *This blog was originally posted on the My Colon Cancer Coach Blog in August 2014. For more information about colon cancer, visit My Colon Cancer Coach at


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