Breast Cancer Awareness Month: How cancer can affect finances

11 October 2021

While the physical and emotional implications of a cancer diagnosis are well known, the financial impacts of a diagnosis are less understood – or even expected.

Research by Macmillan Cancer Trust found that 4 in 5 people feel the financial impact of cancer and on average are around £570 worse off a month as a result of their diagnosis*. With the cancer population set to grow from 2.5 million today to 4 million by 2030 it is vital that action is taken now, to ensure people get the financial support they need**.

How breast cancer affected Natalie’s finances

Because a cancer diagnosis tends to come without warning, many people may not have the financial security in place if they need to take time off work, have increased bills or rack up travel costs to medical appointments. For Natalie, her breast cancer diagnosis came at a time when she was already dealing with unrelated chronic illness and had already used the majority of her sick pay from work.

Natalie has worked for the NHS for 20 years, the last 10 of which as a community children’s nurse. Married with two children aged 15 and 10, Natalie contracted Covid-19 in March 2020, which forced her to take time off work. Although she didn’t know it at the time, it would be the start of a lengthy period of illness.

Eight months after contracting Covid-19, Natalie began suffering from Long COVID, with the added complication of pancreatitis. Then, in March 2021, she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – one of the earliest forms of breast cancer. Three months later, Natalie had a mastectomy.

Dealing with a sick pay shortfall

The complex and drawn-out period during which Natalie was ill meant the majority of her sick pay from work had been used up for her Covid-19 and Long COVID recovery. And because her pancreatitis was only later found to be related to Long COVID, it had been treated as a separate absence. This meant Natalie received less than her entitlement of six months’ full pay.

With the family relying on both Natalie and her husband’s salaries, they began thinking about their options, including if Natalie should return to work sooner. Luckily, when Natalie and her husband purchased their second property, they put Critical Illness Cover in place – something they’d avoided with their first purchase because they never thought anything would happen to them.

The benefits of financial breathing space

Natalie’s claim for carcinoma in situ of the breast was covered under Additional Cover in her Critical Illness Cover policy, and so even though the pay-out was a big relief for Natalie – allowing her to delay going back to work and take more time to recover – it also meant that her policy is still in force if she were to need it in the future.

She was also able to set aside money to pay for future surgeries including the removal of her gallbladder and a breast reconstruction, which she described as a weight off her shoulders

Breast cancer is now the most common cancer worldwide, and here in the UK it accounts for around 55,000 new diagnoses every year. Having the right support in place to provide financial breathing space to pay the rent or mortgage, and bills can go a long way to ease some of the stresses of a very difficult time. It means they’re able to just focus on the most important thing – getting better.

For more information including signs, symptoms and support, please visit Breast Cancer Now.