Although the statistics we saw last week on the nationwide costs of cancer give a good overall perspective of the growing expense of dealing with cancer treatment, cancer doesn’t afflict a nation. It strikes a person. Beyond the pure number of dollars spent on treatment, there are a variety of indirect effects on someone touched by cancer that make it even harder to keep a coherent budget together.

Many of the most compelling stories come from when a cancer is chronic & the threat of recurrence constantly hangs overhead. Treatment has to happen year on and year off, so a patient can’t work consistently and their partner likely can’t work either because he or she has to take care of them in their illness.

In one family we’ve worked with at Angel, the husband, a carpenter, has been dealing with lymphoma for seven years. He can’t do his job, and his wife must take care of him. Certainly, they can make ends meet day-to-day through odd jobs, but neither can hope to have a career that would lead to professional advancement, because after a few months or a year of work, he relapses & they must stop working again for treatment. As a family, they rely on Angel Foundation, the Leukemia-Lymphoma Society, Social Security Disability, and meals from their community and their church to hold things together. Not only that, but their community has rallied around them and their neighbors bring food and help with chores around the house while their communities such as church and school give them gifts for the holidays and other things to make life easier.

However, none of these funding sources are reliable, and it’s impossible to budget around them. No one can plan for a neighbor to continue feeding you six months from now, nor can they pay this month’s rent with grant from an aid organization next month especially if they don’t know if they’re going to get the grant. Thus, families dealing with cancer often end up maxing out their credit cards in an attempt to meet their consistent expenses, sticking themselves with interest payments and deeper financial trouble later on. They have to piece together funding here and a paycheck there, without knowing where they’re going to be next.

Others work even when they shouldn’t they know that if they rest, they’ll recover faster and it will work out better in the long run, but they can’t afford to because they’ll lose their insurance if they leave their firm, or they’ll lost their standing and chances for promotion in the company if they take too much time off. One man we’ve worked with, a partner in an engineering firm, had to go to radiation treatment every day, without telling anyone that he was ill. He was afraid that if his clients found out that he was sick, he would lose bids and his company would suffer. Dozens of employees depended on him, so he worked and then went to treatment every day.

Another woman, an orthodontist and a single mother, was diagnosed with cancer and fortunately could afford the expense of treatment and taking the time off. Her co-pays and the necessary support for her treatments tapped out her reserves, but she stayed afloat. Then the cancer recurred, and despite her health insurance and middle-class income and savings, she couldn’t afford not to go back to work, despite working in a medical environment that regularly exposed her weakened immune system to germs.

That’s the cost of cancer: security and peace of mind beyond just one’s physical well-being. In order to get help, a patient will have to go to many different organizations, fill out different sets of forms, and wait. There’s no consistency to it, and no way to feel secure. In such times, communities can be a huge support both financially and emotionally, by providing child care or hosting fundraisers for cancer expenses. Cancer can leave you very alone for years on end in a maze of patchwork payments and financial insecurity. It takes dedicated friends, family, and community to work to make cancer manageable in the long run, not just the first few weeks or months of treatment.