5 Financial Tips for People with Colorectal Cancer

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There is no typical financial situation.

Karen Financial Tips
Karen Wehling is surrounded by her three children, son-in-law, and two grandchildren.
Photo credit: Ginzy Schaefer

Karen Wehling received her stage IV cancer diagnosis just four months after her husband’s unexpected death. While grieving the recent loss of her husband, she had to maneuver a new diagnosis, new treatment plan, and new financial concerns.

While her situation wasn’t the typical situation of someone with colorectal cancer, Wehling believes there are no “typical” cancer situations. There are, however, common struggles – and, unfortunately, finances are among them. Here, Wheling shares a few of the lessons she’s learned about the intersection of finances and colorectal cancer.

1. Your health is your first priority. (But don’t neglect money questions for too long.)

“Think about your health first,” Wehling said. “There are ways to solve many of the money issues that can come up.” 

But don’t put off money talk too long, Wehling said. She does wish she paid attention to financial matters earlier than she did, and she wishes she knew to apply for disability insurance sooner. Wehling thinks of a friend with cancer who did what she wished she had: First, she created a treatment plan with her care team, and soon after, she talked with her insurance provider to learn what was covered and then found financial support that could fill in the gaps. Focus on your health first, Wehling advises, then turn the focus to finances. Programs like Medicare and Social Security Disability Insurance may offer help.

2. Assemble a team of people willing to help you.

“You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help you when you ask them,” Wehling said.  

This team may include the social workers at your hospital who can connect you to all kinds of resources at the hospital and in the community, and it may include friends and family who may be financially savvy or willing to help you do research. Consider hiring a lawyer, who may assist in applying for disability insurance. Wehling also said that bringing in mental healthcare support can be crucial as well. The stress of cancer combined with the stress of financial concerns can be overwhelming, and therapy can offer valuable support. You don’t have to go through this alone.

“You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help you when you ask them.”

– Karen Wehling, stage IV survivor

3. Think of new possibilities, even ones you didn’t entertain before.

In just one year, Wehling lost her husband, got a stage IV cancer diagnosis, and lost her ability to work. She had to entertain options that she didn’t consider before – and that, to Wehling, was the key to finding solutions that worked. 

“You have to be willing to think out of the box. Suddenly, I had no money, and I couldn’t work. What can I do?” Wehling asked. “Your life may not be what you thought it would be, but be open to the things that change.”

Even if everyone’s situation differs, almost everyone with cancer faces new questions and uncertainties. Wehling moved in with her daughter, and together they pooled their resources. It’s a situation that’s worked out very well for her family. 

4. Connect with others who are going through similar things. 

Wehling went online to find others who were dealing with colorectal cancer, especially through groups like Fight Colorectal Cancer and COLONTOWN. Connecting with others with similar struggles and questions was very helpful and reassuring. Wehling also began to mentor people just starting their cancer journeys, offering her insight, support, and compassion. 

“Support groups are good for when you’re scared and so unsure of what to do. They’ll give you the emotional support you want, and sometimes, they’ll teach you about places you can contact for help,” Wehling said. “When you talk to other people who’ve been through similar things, you feel more like you can go through these, too.”

5. Don’t take “no” for an answer.

If you initially get turned down for financial support, keep fighting. Wehling learned that sometimes people are initially denied for Social Security Disability Benefits, but they can apply again and may get approved on subsequent applications. (A lawyer may be helpful here.) 

“Don’t give up and think that the world is ending,” Wehling said. “Try to find the light. For me, the light was all the people willing to help me through this.”

More resources on finance and money, and colorectal cancer

The Patient Advocate Foundation Co-Pay Relief Fund offers a metastatic colorectal cancer co-pay fund, which is currently closed, but offers an opportunity to "get notified" when new funds open or current funds re-open. Be sure to review the eligibility requirements. For more information, please check out their website. The Patient Advocate Foundation Co-Pay Relief Fund also has a metastatic colorectal cancer health equity fund, which is currently open to patients within specific ZIP codes who must meet other eligibility requirements, as well.

The Cancer Support Community recently posted a blog How to File a Health Insurance Appeal for a Denied Claim: What Patients Need to Know, which contains helpful information and tips about your right to appeal, preparing an appeal, and getting help in the appeals process.

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN) provides a downloadable, helpful tool for patients in need of financial assistance.

For more Fight CRC resources about finance and money, check out our webinar Financial Barriers and Practical Issues After Cancer, blog posts Qualifying For Social Security Disability With Colon Cancer and Demystifying Social Security Disability Benefits, and podcast on Financial Toxicity with Paula Chambers-Raney.

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