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The Financial Perils of Cancer Treatment

The Financial Perils of Cancer Treatment
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Published on April 9, 2020

Fumiko Chino was an art director at a television production company, engaged to be married in the year 2000. Her fiancé, Andrew Ladd, was in graduate school studying for his PhD in robotics, and together they were planning their wedding when the unthinkable happened. After months of strange symptoms, Andrew was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoma, an aggressive cancer of endocrine cells which is very difficult to treat.

The couple proceeded with their wedding plans and Andrew’s treatment, but his graduate school insurance (what Fumiko called “sham insurance”) was not enough, and they became overwhelmed by the avalanche of bills that came during and after his treatment. Sadly, one year after their wedding, Andrew’s treatment stopped working, and he passed away. At that point, Fumiko had quit her job to take care of him and emptied her retirement savings to keep the bill collectors at bay.

No one suggested a financial adviser.

“There were not any financial advisers available; I believe one could have helped us,” Fumiko said. 

“The growth of financial navigators for patients with cancer, or any chronic disease, is a direct result of both how complex insurance has become and how expensive cancer treatment is currently,” she added.

It’s a shock to the system to be a widow in your 20s while also battling insurance claims and bills exceeding $100,000.

Second Acts

Fumiko gave herself time to mourn and time to consider a second career. From a family of doctors, medicine was part of the family’s trajectory, and she decided to follow in the path of her parents and siblings into oncology.

Now, Dr. Fumiko Chino is a radiation oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on the front lines of cancer and COVID-19 in New York City. She loves this role and helping patients. But as much as she is concerned about their treatment plans, she’s also a champion of their financial situations and speaks up about it often.

“I try to provide some reassurance that there are almost always options for treatment even if costs can seem insurmountable,” Dr. Chino said. It’s okay to talk about costs with the treatment team.

“I know many people with cancer are concerned that they may get substandard care if the doctor knows they're struggling with costs. I think the best way of combating this idea is to always make costs part of every conversation; it normalizes the conversation so that people don't think that it's something shameful,” Dr. Chino said.

News You Can Use

When you’re in a race for your life, or the life of a loved one, finances may not be at the top of your list during clinic visits. However, moving forward without understanding the cost of care is like going on a cross-country road trip with no GPS. Understanding why drugs and treatments cost so much is one part of the story and figuring out how insurance works is another. It can be daunting, but help is out there.

Financial navigators work with patients and their families to help them understand the cost of care and to connect them with available resources. Some physicians offer payment plans, but patients need to ask if that’s an option. There are financial programs to help with everything from getting prescription costs lowered to emotional support. And thanks to compassionate physicians like Dr. Chino, who is spreading the word about her own personal experience and taking a holistic approach to medicine, patients and their caregivers can focus on what’s most important—the patient.

~Lauren Evoy Davis

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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