STUDY: 25 percent of breast cancer patients experience financial decline because of treatment

12% of breast cancer survivors have medical debt

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) - The diagnosis of breast cancer is stressful enough, but now a new study reveals fighting the disease can leave some survivors in financial stress for years.

Rochelle Donald of Warren had to take six months off from work to fight her breast cancer.

"There were times where I thought my daughter and I was going to have to go to a shelter, you know. And I didn't want that to happen,” said Donald.


A new study led by University of Michigan Health System’s Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers looked at breast cancer survivors in Detroit and Los Angeles.

They surveyed the women about nine months after being diagnosed and then again four years later.

Questions focused on if they’d experienced short-term financial problems or long-term challenges.

Did they have any utilities turned off because they couldn’t pay?

Did they have to move out of their home due to loss of income because of medical leave from work?

Did they have to skip buying medication or miss doctor’s appointments?

Researchers found a quarter of breast cancer survivors said they were worse off financially four years later in part because of their treatment.

Also, 12% admitted to still having debt because of medical treatment for their breast cancer.

“As oncologists, we are proud of the advances in our ability to cure an increasing proportion of patients diagnosed with breast cancer.  But as treatments improve, we must ensure that we do not leave these patients in financial ruin because of our efforts,” said study author Reshma Jagsi, M.D.

Dr. Jagsi is an associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School.

The study found these factors played a role:

  • Household income under $50,000
  • Working part-time when diagnosed
  • Reduced work hours after diagnosis
  • Lack of substantial prescription drug coverage
  • Breast cancer recurrence
  • Undergoing chemotherapy

The study also found African Americans & English-speaking Latinas were more likely than whites to experience financial decline after treatment.


Rochelle Donald underwent five months of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation after being diagnosed.

"I just had all these bills on me, and not knowing how I was going to pay it was just devastating," said the single Mom in Warren.

But her social worker at Mcclaren Macomb connected her with The Pink Fund -- which paid her rent and car note for two months.

The non-profit's founder, CEO, and President Molly MacDonald says the organization receives 80 to 90 applications for help every month.

"Our cap is 3000-dollars in bill payments.  But because the applications have really outpaced the funding at this point, we're doing on average about a thousand-dollars over 90 days in bill payments on their behalf," said MacDonald.

Another group offering temporary assistance for breast cancer patients is The Shades of Pink Foundation.  The group’s President Karen Bourlier said each story is heartbreaking.

"A lot of our clients are single women. They're taking care of their kids. They're taking care of their parents. And now they need to be helped," Bourlier explained.

The Shades of Pink Foundation helped Elores Harris of Dearborn Heights.
Harris had to move out of her home and stay with relatives during her breast cancer battle.

The time off she took from work cut down her income significantly.

"[The Shades of Pink Foundation] paid my back DTE bills, my auto insurance. And they paid for my cell phone so I could stay in contact with my doctors,” said Harris.

These are just a couple of stories of grateful survivors who are representing a growing group of women needing financial help.


Brian Taylor from St. John Providence Health System’s Public Relations department shared this list of other resources for those fighting breast cancer:

Look Good Feel Better – American Cancer Society

Susan’s Special Needs – Hair Breast Prosthesis & Bra Specialists
Wendy’s Wigs

Gilda’s Club

The Lakehouse


Living Beyond Breast Cancer

Young Survival Coalition

Men Against Breast Cancer

Pink Ribbon Riders

Shades of Pink

Sisters Network Inc.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure

The Pink Fund

United Way of Southeast Michigan


Saturday, April 26, 2014 is the Shades of Pink Foundation's largest fundraiser of the year -- A Walk at the Detroit Zoo.  Click here if you'd like to find out how to get involved.


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