Marcie, age 34, comes to the outpatient infusion center to receive her final cycle of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.

Jared, one of the infusion nurses, notices that Marcie appears unusually withdrawn. When questioned, she tearfully explains that she and her husband are considering bankruptcy. She tells Jared that although they have medical insurance, the copayments have exhausted their small savings account. Marcie says she needs to return to work, but the cost of daycare is prohibitive. The couple is also paying late fees on their mortgage and is behind on their car payments. “Everything we have worked so hard for is slipping away,” she says.

What Would You Do?

As cancer shrinks, medical expenses grow. People being treated for cancer have a 2.5 times greater risk of declaring bankruptcy than the general public, with younger patients receiving the biggest financial hit. 

Ramsey et al. found that younger patients with cancer were much more likely to file for bankruptcy—up to 10 times more than patients aged 65 and older. Fifty-two percent of all patients studied filed for bankruptcy within the first year of diagnosis, with bankruptcy rates dropping to 16% after five years. 

Planning for cancer is not likely on younger individuals’ list of to-dos. Paying off student loans, purchasing a new home, starting a business, and raising a family can all factor into financial hardships and potential crisis. When compared with people aged 65 and older, a lack of liquid assets also thwarts the younger generations’ ability to weather financial storms. 

Jared tells Marcie about, an online resource dedicated to helping cancer survivors understand legal matters. When Marcie returns to the clinic three months later, she tells Jared that the website was very helpful. They are now working out a financial plan and no longer contemplating bankruptcy as their only option.