“Cancer sucks.” That is a crude sentence but one I have never heard anyone dispute. 

Cancer can affect anyone. Hell, cancer has affected everyone. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a family member or friend battle the disease. Cancer doesn’t care who you are—man, woman, young, old, rich, poor, active, sedentary, religious, atheist, fat, thin, tall, short, black, white, brown, yellow, red or polka dot—when cancer comes, its effects are far reaching.

There is the physical toll, of course. Some of the treatments used to try to halt and reverse the spread of the disease are brutal on the patient. Aches, pains, vomiting and fatigue are just a few of the side effects. Many patients report periods where whatever stamina they thought they had would vaporize in an instant as if someone just flipped a switch to “off.”

The emotional toll can be even more trying. Patients struggle with gut-wrenching questions like, “Why me? Will I beat this? Will it come back? How will my family fare without me? Am I scaring the kids? What will my friends/family/coworkers think of me? Are people really pulling for me or have they already dissociated and written me off? Do they feel sorry for me? Is it selfish to want to enjoy what time I have left? Is enjoying my remaining time even possible? Will I be remembered for the person I was or my medical condition near the end? How do I keep people from seeing me this way? Will I ever get my hair back? Are my children destined to get this too?”

To add to the stress, families can face a radically different financial reality. Incomes often drop significantly because the patient can’t work. Spouses who help care for patients often must cut back their hours. Keeping tabs on everything can be an overwhelming task.

The number of bills and the size of those bills can be staggering. Lung cancer patients are looking at a $200,000 tab. It is no wonder that 86 percent of cancer survivors with health insurance reported serious financial burden, according to the American Cancer Society.

Cancer patients are almost three times more likely to declare bankruptcy than the overall population. Bankrupt patients are 80 percent more likely to die than others with cancer. 24 percent borrow against retirement funds and more than one in three deplete their savings. At a time when nutrition is critical, 37 percent of patient families cut back on groceries.

Financial planners can have very little direct effect on the physical and emotional effects of cancer, but we can make all the difference to some patients financially. It is possible that financial planning can help save lives.

Years ago, a trustee at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston asked the organization if it felt matching patients up with a certified financial planner practitioner would be helpful to their patients. Dana Farber believed so and reached out to the FPA of Massachusetts for some help. It was clear to doctors and social workers that financial stresses were impeding treatment for many patients and that qualified advisors would be an important resource for families.

Rick Fingerman, CFP, CDFA, CCFS, a managing partner at Financial Planning Solutions in Newton, Mass., was one of the financial planners that participated in a pilot program back in 2008 to provide pro bono help. His role is now of liaison and oversees the program as well as matches up patients with coaches. 

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