06/26/2011 08:33 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2011

The Ugly Side of Cancer

As I progress though my fifth year with Stage IV breast cancer, I have not been blindsided by its ugliness. In my opinion, cancer takes more than one's body and soul; it takes one's very being.

Living with any stage of cancer can take a toll on one's pocketbook and relationships. Many who are fighting this disease are often faced with job loss which leads to loss of insurance. When a person with cancer can no longer work -- either by sickness or lack of employer empathy -- it makes living with the disease that much more unbearable. Having little or less income has a trickledown effect: No home, no car ... plain and simple ... no quality of life.

Eventually, the financial hardship affects relationships. I am aware of numbers of women who have been left alone to deal with Stage IV because their husbands will no longer tolerate their disability. Marriages that are not that strong to begin with are bound to suffer greatly. Cancer doesn't care; it's ugly.

Most recently, I have been focusing my attention on well-documented statistics that relate to cancer and how it affects lifestyle. My research points to one conclusion. The end-result of cancer (excluding death) is not a pretty picture for anyone. No matter what part of the body the cancer invades, there is a price to pay; a cost associated with surviving this disease. It cannot and should not be evaluated only in terms of treatment.

A study conducted by Scott Ramsey, M.D. Ph.D., health care economist and internist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, indicates that bankruptcy rates among cancer patients increase with survival time. As well, average insolvency rates rise fourfold within five years of diagnosis. According to Dr. Ramsey, "Patients diagnosed with cancer may face significant financial stress due to income loss and out-of-pocket costs associated with their treatment."

The study also found that compared to the general population, bankruptcy rates were nearly twice as high among cancer patients one year after diagnosis. The median time to bankruptcy for those living with cancer was two and a half years after diagnosis.

Dr. Ramsey presented these findings on June 6 at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago. In his remarks he stated, "The risk of bankruptcy for cancer patients is not well known, and previous studies have relied on individual self-reports about medically related reasons for bankruptcy filing." Dr. Ramsey went on to say, "By linking two irrefutable government records of cancer and bankruptcy, we are able to determine how financial insolvency risk varies by cancer type, treatment and other factors."

Dr Ramsey and his research team found that bankruptcy risk is highest for lung, thyroid and leukemia/lymphoma cancer patients. Furthermore, it's no surprise that younger patients are at more financial risk than patients over 65, who are typically on Medicare. AND, given the current state of the economy, researchers also found that bankruptcy rates among cancer patients have increased significantly.

I applaud Dr. Ramsey and the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division along with researchers at the University of Washington who conducted the study. The team also worked in collaboration with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Washington, and Seattle. Hats off to them... and to The National Cancer Institute for funding the research.

This information underscores the ugly side of cancer; a side of cancer that too often is not recognized or talked about. It's time that the public, doctors, health administrators, legislators and educators begin to have a dialogue about these astronomical, life-sucking figures that haunt human beings living with cancer. We must all come to realize that the hardship and struggles cancer brings to an individual goes well beyond treatment and pain. Cancer spreads beyond the body and works its way into all matters of one's life. It's ugly!

Until Next Time