'Cancer made me broke'


Deadly as cancer may be to a person’s health, it also wreaks havoc on one’s finances.

According to a January study by the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research, one-third of cancer survivors go into debt, and 3 percent file for bankruptcy.

“Research shows that financial distress is [at least] equal to the fear of dying from the disease,” says Dan Sherman, owner of the NaVectis Group, which educates hospital personnel on how to assist with financial navigation for cancer patients. “Some who are diagnosed with cancer do everything they possibly can, and go through a lot of [financial] resources. Others try to keep their families from becoming destitute.”

While he recalls an extreme example — a man who chose to forgo treatment and hasten his death so he could pass away before a $200,000 term-life insurance policy expired — many patients spend money first and deal with consequences later. Here are a few who did what they had to in order to stay alive — alongside expert advice that might have helped salve the financial pain.

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Deferred retirement
For middle- to upper-middle-class people, even those with gold-standard insurance policies, it’s not always the cost of care that does them in financially. More often, it’s having to stop working during treatment, as was the case with Forest Hills resident Bob Tufts, who felt the sting of losing two incomes after he was diagnosed with a blood-related cancer in 2009. The 61-year-old former Wall Street executive had expenses that included his daughter’s college tuition and recalls 14 months of not working — and the double whammy of his wife taking off work to be his caregiver.

“She was running all over the place, and trying to work was almost impossible,” he says. After digging through a good chunk of his savings in order to live, he wound up pulling $10,000 to $15,000 out of his 401(k), which comes with heavy tax penalties.

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