The high costs of modern cancer care and patient out-of-pocket expenses for everything from diagnostic testing to hospitalizations, therapeutic procedures, specialty drugs, and more have led many cancer patients to experience a new and equally stressful condition known as ‘financial toxicity.’
“The rising costs of everything recently, including food, utilities, transportation, fuel, etc., have brought the concept of ‘financial toxicity’ more to the forefront than ever,” shared Ethan Wasserman, MD, medical oncologist with the Howell, N.J. Division of Regional Cancer Care Associates and chairman of the Board of Directors for RCC Charities. “It’s particularly profound with cancer because the specialized medications required for treatment (along with many alternative drugs) are often so expensive — that’s where people really feel the pinch.”
“The exorbitant expense of cancer drugs combined with continually-rising health insurance costs can render patients financially unable to afford or sustain the life-saving treatment they need,” said Dr. Wasserman, who noted that this situation has repercussions for patients at all stages of a cancer diagnosis. “For example, if a patient being treated for cancer that’s metastasized can’t afford treatment, their cancer will continue to get worse and spread,” he said, “and if a patient being treated to prevent a recurrence can’t afford their medication, they won’t receive those protective benefits.”
To help address this harsh reality, Dr. Wasserman and fellow colleagues at RCCA launched RCC Charities — a non-profit organization committed to helping cancer patients and their families with the financial assistance they need at a very difficult time in their lives — in 2018-2019.
“We wanted to start a charity and create a fund to help patients,” said Dr. Wasserman of the initiative, which provides up to five $500 grants annually to eligible applicants to help cover such non-medical expenses as utilities, mortgages, rent, transportation, food, and gas — all costs that can weigh heavily on individuals already struggling under the financial burden of their cancer care.
“RCC Charities is now funded by donations from families and friends on behalf of loved ones who were treated or in honor of their health care providers, as well as RCCA physicians,” Dr. Wasserman said. “We started handing out grants in late 2021, publicized the program throughout RCCA’s locations, and have already given out nearly $15,000 in grants to deserving applicants as of this spring.”
For Dr. Wasserman, the ability to alleviate his patients’ concerns over how they’ll manage their financial obligations while undergoing cancer treatment is extremely rewarding. “Thankfully, there are so many people out there who are willing to donate, because there are so many people with cancer who are in need of this support,” he said.
“I think it comes back to an appreciation that life is fragile and can change on a dime; the ability to position ourselves to help one another is the ultimate essence of being human,” Dr. Wasserman said.
“By supporting RCC Charities, it will allow us to help reduce the financial toxicity and burden of non-medical expenses on our patients and ease their anxiety,” he said. “As the old adage says, when you give of yourself, you get back so much more in return.”
For more information on Hackensack, N.J.-based RCC Charities, to donate to the cause, or to apply for a grant, visit RCCCharities.org.