Breast Cancer Survival Guide, Part 2
"The Meter Was Constantly Running"Anne Cortes, 48, married with one daughter, of Greensboro, North Carolina
Almost two years ago Anne Cortes felt an almond-size lump while lying in bed doing her monthly breast exam. An ultrasound confirmed the worst -- she had cancer in both breasts -- triggering a 1-1/2-year-long odyssey of tests, biopsies, appointments with specialists, a double mastectomy, intensive chemotherapy, and other treatments.
Cortes, a self-employed community planner, had $375-a-month health insurance for herself and her teenage daughter. Her husband, who earns $2,800 a month as an adjunct professor at two colleges, has a separate policy. Medical bills sucked up the $10,000 loan she and her husband had taken out in the fall of 2005 to redo their kitchen, along with half of her earnings and all of their savings. And because she was sick and unable to work, her income plummeted roughly $10,000 a year, to about $20,000, making it that much harder to stay afloat.
While coping with breast cancer was difficult, the intense financial strain was the worst part, says Cortes, who has pared her family's living expenses down to the bare essentials -- no summer camp, new clothes, or birthday presents. "It felt like the meter was constantly running," she says. Cortes also skimped on her medical care. She sees her oncologist once a month instead of weekly, as recommended, has postponed finishing breast reconstruction, and uses drug samples her doctor gives her rather than filling costly prescriptions for antinausea medication.
When a bone scan last June found a spot on her ribs, she hesitated before getting a CT scan to find whether her cancer had spread, and when she lost a molar because the chemo weakened her teeth, she couldn't afford to replace it. "I refuse to leave my family up to their ears in debts," says Cortes, whose cancer is now in remission.The Cash Crunch
Lost wages: $15,000 (over 18 months)
Lost savings: $6,000 (all they had)
Out-of-pocket costs: $23,689 (from 2005 to the summer of 2007: copayments, $2,500 per year; deductible, $3,000 maximum per year, which doesn't include medication and doctor visit copayments)
Result: More than $15,000 in debt, including $10,000 kitchen loan used for medical bills
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