Caregivers and Financial Toxicity

The Business of Relationships

Talking about finances can be hard for everyone. It often makes people uncomfortable and can bring a fear of judgement if your financial situation isn’t ideal.

Talking about finances can also impact relationships. In fact, there is data that shows finances are the major cause of strain in relationships. Money is the number one issue over which married couples fight. And fights about money are the second leading cause of divorce, behind infidelity.

Unfortunately, it can be even harder for couples who are coping with a cancer diagnosis and trying to manage their financial situation.

There may be differences in how you approach managing your finances with a partner if you are married, in a long-term relationship, or early in a dating relationship. A foundational element to a successful relationship is building a strong partnership. Most importantly, there are three things to keep in mind when dealing with finances in a partnership:

1. Open and Honest Communication

It may sound obvious, but it’s worth saying that open and honest communication is critical to a successful partnership.

“If you find it difficult to talk to your partner about finances, or other topics, a counselor, therapist, or other psychosocial care professional might be able to help facilitate those difficult conversations.”

According to a TD Bank study, 60% of couples talk about money at least weekly. It can be helpful to have check-in conversations at least monthly, to make sure that everyone is on the same page related to finances.

If you find it difficult to talk to your partner about finances, or other topics, a counselor, therapist, or other psychosocial care professional might be able to help facilitate those difficult conversations.

People’s approach to managing their finances is often rooted in ways that they were raised and their previous experiences. Talking with a counselor, can help uncover some of these issues and help you lay a productive path forward.

Even a financial advisor can be a helpful mediator around money conversations.

2. The Importance of Financial Planning

Proactive financial planning can make navigating finances after a cancer diagnosis much smoother. This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting down with a financial planner, although that can help, too. It means that you should sit down with your partner and in an open and honest conversation, talk through some of the financial choices that you might need to make.

You have to weigh immediate versus long-term financial needs. For example, it might be as basic as considering how to adjust your current budget while you have increased medical expenses, a loss of employment income, or even increased child care expenses while in treatment, versus what you want your financial situation to look like in the future. Thinking through these decisions with your partner is crucial.

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Some people may only want to focus on the immediate present, while others may be extremely worried about the future. Each person is going to approach their financial situation from their own unique perspective. Above all, the only way that your partner will understand your perspective is if you are open and honest.

Some caregivers may feel committed to putting their own current and future financial health at risk to be supportive of their partner. Others may feel a sense of selfishness and guilt about worrying how that might impact their own lives moving forward.

These are justified concerns and can be difficult to share. Again, a counselor, therapist, or other mental healthcare professional can help facilitate these conversations.

These financial conversations can also include making decisions about estate planning. Many people who don’t have a lot of money or assets think that they don’t need an estate plan. But every adult should have an estate plan in place. Estate plans can include things like what will happen to your belongings when you die. Additionally, they include practical things like who will make medical or financial decisions for you if you are unable to. If you have younger children, you should consider how are you going to protect and support them in the future. This includes naming a legal guardian.

3. The Practical Issues of Cancer

For those in relationships who are not married, if you would like your partner to be able to get information about your healthcare from your medical providers, you should consider signing a HIPAA waiver. Additionally, it may be useful to consider a power of attorney for finances and/or an advanced health care directive in the event you cannot make those decisions on your own.

“For those who are in a caregiving role, it is important to understand your employment rights and what options might be available to replace your lost wages.”

For those who are in a caregiving role, it is important to understand your employment rights and what options might be available to replace your lost wages.

There are financial assistance resources available. You have to think broadly and creatively to maximize the help that might be available to you.

In conclusion, managing finances after a cancer diagnosis can be stressful on top of everything else that you and your partner are dealing with. Triage Cancer provides information on stress management tools, including a Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Guided Imagery exercise.


Joanna Fawzy MoralesJoanna Fawzy Morales, Esq. is a cancer rights attorney, and CEO of Triage Cancer, a national, nonprofit organization providing education on the practical and legal issues that may impact individuals diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers, through events, materials, and resources.

Mrs. Morales has spent 25 years working in the cancer community, including as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Loyola Law School, teaching Cancer Rights Law, and for the John Wayne Cancer Institute’s Psychosocial Care Program.

Mrs. Morales has presented hundreds of seminars on employment, insurance, finances, and advocacy. Mrs. Morales has co-authored a book on Cancer Rights Law for the American Bar Association. She’s been published in Psycho-Oncology, Coping with Cancer, Women, and other publications, including a book entitled, “Work and Cancer Survivors.”

In 2010, she was recognized by the Los Angeles Daily Journal as one of the Top 20 Attorneys in California Under the Age of 40.

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