Financial Strain and Childhood Cancer: What’s Your Definition of ‘Freedom’?

By Peggy McDaniel, BSN, RN  

I recently read a stirring blog post in the NY Times from a fellow nurse, about a cancer patient she’d treated who was an insurance salesman but whose last months were dominated by a desperate attempt to manage his mounting medical bills, bills which left his wife with a second massive burden on top of her grief at his death.

by frozenchipmunk, via flickr

by frozenchipmunk, via flickr

Like Theresa Brown, I am an oncology nurse. In my work in pediatric oncology, I have also seen families ravaged by cancer treatment—physically, emotionally, and economically. Young families that fight to save their children often end up bankrupt, or with a ruined marriage from the emotional strain of dealing with a loss coupled with financial strain. Financial concerns are ever present. 

Theresa’s article really hit home. I hope you take the time to read it. As I was listening to President Obama’s health care reform speech last week, I heard him mention Senator Kennedy’s experience as a parent of two children diagnosed with cancer. When it comes to the pain and suffering that children experience during treatment, the Kennedy childrens’ experience and that of children without reliable insurance were probably quite similar.

I would guess, though, that the experience was very different for the parents. I have seen parents spend hours on the phone with insurance companies, often at the child’s bedside, fighting for their coverage. This time would be better spent interacting with and supporting their children. Parents may need occasional time away from their child’s bedside, but there are healthier options for them during those moments than spending them fighting with an insurance company. The treatment protocols for leukemia average three years. The time needed to attend to this treatment puts many parents at risk for job loss and thus the loss of their insurance.

In his speech, President Obama stated three primary goals: increasing security for the already insured, providing insurance to those who are currently uninsured, and slowing the rising cost of health care. These goals must become our reality so that kids and their parents can attend to the most important task at hand: getting well. Theresa Brown writes, “I have no statistics to support the need for reform; I can only describe what I have seen, because what I have seen brings the discussion of health care reform down to the level of individuals.”

I too have seen these “individuals.” Kids going through cancer treatment are the bravest folks I know. This is supposed to be the land of the free and the brave. Maybe freedom means letting each and every parent be free of financial worries so that they can hold their children close.

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. The Daily Reviewer September 16, 2009 at 10:10 pm


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  2. Carol Ishizeki September 14, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    I enjoy reading Peggy McDaniel’s post. She was one of the nurses involved in caring for my daughter during her battle with Leukemia. My family was lucky to have good insurance, but I knew of other families who were having a hard time. A serious illness not only infects your child or loved one, but all aspects of your life. Peggy is right. Time spent on insurance issues is time taken away from being with your loved one.

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