In our blog today we are delving into one of the less spoken about impacts of breast cancer treatments – finances. Whether you are currently in treatment or in remission, or you are a friend or relative of a breast cancer patient, you may find this article and the advice we bring you helpful.
Pre-pandemic, advances in screening and treatment programmes for breast cancer were saving more lives than ever. However, the knock-on effects of financial burdens during and after diagnosis can reduce the quality of life of many survivors and the effects of the pandemic seem to have made this phenomenon far worse.
In a 2018 study by the University of Michigan, 38% of American women surveyed, were worried about their finances due to breast cancer treatment. In 2020, a Pink Fund survey found that 78% of breast cancer patients reported concerns about their finances during the COVID-19 lockdowns. In addition, 20% had been laid off and 47% could no longer work due to the effects of the pandemic.
In the UK, whilst the NHS provides excellent free care for breast cancer patients, the pandemic has caused delays in access to screening and treatment. For many, this has increased the already significant barriers to maintaining pre-illness financial status. Part of this can be caused by the effects of the illness and treatments on employment and earning capacity. With financial concerns, comes a build-up of stress and this is less than ideal at a time when physical recovery needs to be the main focus.
For some patients and their carers, time off for surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation treatment translates into a loss of income. Multiple sick days may jeopardise job and financial security, just when it’s needed the most. Some women are forced into taking temporary disability benefits, and these are problems that affect patients at every income level.
On the other hand, return to work (RTW) can be a positive step for most people, helping them move forward by regaining some normality. Discussions about a RTW plan with the treatment team, occupational health or HR department, and manager are essential as employers are required to make reasonable adjustments during this period e.g. a phased return or offers of practical support.
Some people may give up work permanently, for health reasons, or because the experience of having breast cancer has made them reassess priorities. Giving up work for good also means giving up any rights and job-related benefits e.g. pensions. Speaking to the welfare/occupational health and HR department can gather information on what is available to stay in work, or if it is possible to retire early on the grounds of ill health.
Those who feel they have to stop working should get independent employment advice by speaking to The Citizens Advice Bureau, any Union or Federation they are part of and if required, a solicitor with expertise in employment law.
If the issues in this blog are affecting you currently, try talking to people who have been in a similar situation, either in your workplace or social circle. Online forums allow breast cancer patients and their relatives to share concerns with a community who have relevant knowledge and experiences. Informal advice and support can be accessed through online discussion forums such as Breast Cancer Now and Breast Cancer Research Fund. Macmillan Cancer Support also has more information about how cancer and cancer treatments may have an impact on employment and finances. If you need emotional support, you could benefit from counselling sessions via the NHS, charity sector, or your workplace EAP.
Author: Dr Becky Lunson Southall, Content Contributor for InsideOut
Jagsi, R et al. (2018) Unmet need for clinician engagement regarding financial toxicity after diagnosis of breast cancer. Cancer Journal, Volume 124, Issue 18.
Pink Fund Survey, 2020. Accessed online (20/10/21) at https://pinkfund.org/about/2020survey/
Breast Cancer Now, Breast Cancer And Employment. Accessed online (10/20/21) at https://breastcancernow.org/information-support/facing-breast-cancer/living-beyond-breast-cancer/life-after-breast-cancer-treatment/breast-cancer-employment
Macmillan Cancer Support. Employment Support Info. Accessed online (19/10/21) at https://www.macmillan.org.uk/cancer-information-and-support/impacts-of-cancer/benefits-and-financial-support/employment-and-support-allowance