Living with and beyond cancer

Financial issues

Cancer can disrupt many aspects of life, including household finances and budgets. For many people, financial issues resolve soon after treatment, but having had cancer meant that some of the people we interviewed were living with on-going financial difficulties.  The reasons for these difficulties varied, but included a loss of income due to early retirement, reduced income while on sick pay, or having to spend money on making their homes accessible. A few people said they had missed out on promotions because of their time spent away from work. One source of help was access to long-term government benefits which eased the financial burden of their illness. 
One of the common issues facing people living past a cancer diagnosis was difficulty in getting different types of insurance products, which could impact on their lifestyle. It was often more problematic to get health, travel or car insurance with a history of cancer. For John (Interview 09), who was living past colorectal cancer and used to enjoy travelling with his wife, being on long-term medication means that his insurance companies ‘aren’t too happy’ about him travelling abroad. Christine, who had breast cancer, thinks that life insurance companies wouldn’t ‘touch her with a barge pole’.
Despite their medical history, most people were able to get travel insurance if they paid an extra premium cost on top of their regular cover. One woman, who had survived ovarian cancer, said that having to pay this extra premium for her travel insurance made her feel that the insurance companies ‘weren’t going to give her a chance’.  
Others found it impossible to get insurance at all once they mentioned the word ‘cancer’ to insurance salesmen. One man found that he wasn’t able to renew his car insurance when his insurance company queried his medical history. He now doesn’t bother mentioning his testicular cancer in order to get the cover he needs. On the other hand, Claire, who had survived recurrent Hodgkin’s lymphoma and colorectal cancer, hasn’t had a problem getting car insurance but can’t get house or health insurance.  She feels that she is totally ‘uninsurable’ but also feels lucky that she has a husband who can take on things like the house insurance in order for them to get a mortgage. 
Some people had taken out critical illness cover and other insurance policies before they had cancer, which helped them financially. A 26 year old man with testicular cancer had his mortgage paid off by a critical illness policy, as did a woman living past ovarian cancer. Another man living five years past testicular cancer wished he’d taken out critical illness insurance before his diagnosis, especially as he was self-employed at the time of his diagnosis and therefore ineligible for company sick pay. 
People who have cancer can sometimes qualify for government benefits. Getting these benefits can act as a short-term support around the time of cancer diagnosis and treatment and can help with ‘paying the bills’ at a difficult time. We also spoke to people who needed to stay on benefits in the long-term as a result of cancer. 
Some people had to give up their jobs or retire due to cancer and haven’t been able to go back to work due to on-going side effects from cancer and its treatment. In these cases, having access to government benefits helped when facing the long-term financial implications of losing a stable salary. A 33 year old man with lymphoma left his job due to his illness and now receives benefits with ‘all the components that go with it’. Having these benefits has meant that he and his family are doing ‘OK’ financially at the moment. Another woman living past lung cancer still gets benefits as she is classified as terminally ill. She said it had been ‘wonderful’ to have her finances sorted as she’s not sure how she would have managed without having a salary.    
Getting benefits might mean being ‘labelled’ as disabled or terminally ill, which might be difficult for some people. Janet (Interview 04) had colorectal cancer seven years ago, and she was unable to keep working full-time due to her on-going fatigue and bowel problems. She felt that she had to ‘get real’ about living with a label of being disabled. Now that she gets tax credits and works part-time for a charity she actually finds that she is better off than before she had cancer when she was self-employed. Not everyone was able to get government benefits despite applying for them. A 34-year-old man living past testicular cancer wasn’t entitled to any benefits and has been finding things very difficult financially. He felt that he was fighting to get something he ‘really should have’ and should be entitled to benefits as a result of his illness. 
Government benefits didn’t solve all of the financial problems for people who retired or left their jobs early. Marilyn, who is 54, had leukaemia and had to retire on health grounds. She is entitled to benefits, but it only adds up to half of her previous salary. Although her husband still works, they find finances tight, and she feels guilty about not having the energy or ability to work. 
Living with less money due to a loss of income meant that people had to cut down on their spending and manage their finances differently. One woman living past ovarian cancer described that despite losing her salary her family was able to manage by cutting down on holidays. Julie is a 27 year old woman living with leukaemia who had to give up a job in London to work closer to home. As she noted, ‘you have to learn to adjust’. 

A 39-year-old man who is ten years post-diagnosis from lymphoma and hasn’t been able to return to work feels that while other people in his community have the extra money to go on holiday or buy new things, he and his wife have to live more frugally. What money they do have goes on trying to buy things for his daughter to make her life as normal as possible. 
While some people had to cut down on their spending, one man living seven years after being diagnosed with lung cancer said that although he had less money, he is spending less as he has less energy to go out and do things. 

For more information about how financial issues affect people closer to the time of cancer diagnosis, see our information about experiences of financial issues and pancreatic cancer and lymphoma and finances

Last reviewed October 2018.
Last updated October 2018.

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