Breast cancer brings about a range of practical issues that need attention. From how you manage your finances, through to employment and what to do about childcare, there’s a lot to think about and organise during an already difficult time.
My main concern was how long I could stay off work without an income before losing my house. Luckily I was OK as I was very careful and budgeted well. – Michelle
Undergoing breast cancer treatment can cause financial strain and worry. While your day-to-day expenses are likely to continue, you will probably also face additional costs for medical treatments and tests.
Fortunately, some support is available. If you are worried about the financial burden of your illness, you may like to:
- Talk to your doctor about the likely costs of tests, treatment and support services
- Read the My Journey Kit which has information on how to manage your finances
- Find out about financial services in your area that might be able to help you. You can do this by asking your GP, breast care nurse or hospital social worker. You can also contact the Cancer Helpline on 13 11 20 for this information.
- Find out if you are eligible for a health care card from Centrelink (phone: 13 27 17). You may be eligible if you receive a Centrelink payment or if you are on a low income. A health care card can reduce the cost of your medications and other services.
- Find out if you are eligible for travel assistance through a state or territory government Patient Assisted Transport Scheme. If you are living in a rural or regional part of Australia, you may have to travel for treatment in another town or city. State and territory governments offer financial assistance for some people who have to travel for treatment. More information about this can be found on our support in rural areas page.
- Download the Financial and practical assistance factsheet for further information about the range of benefits, subsidies and services that may be available to you and your family.
- Keep track of your expenses in your My Journey Kit Personal Record.
Managing the expenses of breast cancer
While everyone’s situation is different, it can be helpful to hear other women's stories. In the video below, Australian women share their thoughts on how they managed the expenses of breast cancer.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Medicare
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) is an Australian Government scheme that subsidises the cost of some medicines. If you have a Medicare card you will be covered by the PBS.
While most breast cancer medicines are subsidised through the PBS, some are not and so you will be required to pay the full cost of them. It is a good idea to ask your doctor if there are subsidised medicines suitable for you.
To find out if the medicines you use are covered by the PBS, visit the Australian Government Department of Human Services website.
Under the PBS Safety Net, when you have paid a certain amount for prescription medicines in less than one calendar year, you will be eligible to pay less, or in some cases nothing, for in the rest of your PBS medicines for that year. Ask your pharmacist, Medicare or Centrelink how to register for the Safety Net. For more information, visit the PBS website.
The Medicare Safety Net works in the same way. Once you have paid a certain amount in medical fees, you won't have to pay as much for the rest of the year. Services which count towards the Medicare Safety Net include GP and specialist consultations, ultrasounds, scans, X-rays and blood tests.
If you are single, you do not need to register for the Medicare Safety Net, but be sure to let Medicare know if you change your address. Couples and families do need to register for the Medicare Safety Net, so that your combined medical costs can contribute to your family safety net. Visit your local Medicare office, or call Medicare on 13 20 11, to register. For more information, visit the Medicare website.
GP Management Plans
Women diagnosed with breast cancer may be eligible to claim through Medicare for up to five allied health service appointments per year, including with a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, psychologist or dietitian. Ask your GP about developing a GP Management Plan and/or a Team Care Arrangement for you. Visit the Department of Health website for more information.
After you’ve been through breast cancer you may find you have trouble obtaining travel insurance. If you are intending to travel, it’s a good idea to find out what your options are before you book. For more information, please download our travel insurance fact sheets.
You may find that continuing to work during your treatment helps to bring a sense of 'normality' to your life. It can also help to keep you occupied during your treatment. However, you may not be strong enough to work especially if you are experiencing side effects such as fatigue or nausea.
I returned to work one day after finishing radiotherapy. Now, looking back, I wish I had taken some time off to rest and relax. – Melissa
Here are some tips for managing work during your breast cancer:
- Talk to your employer as soon as possible about your diagnosis. She or he may be able to work out a job share or reduced hours arrangement for you
- Find out your entitlements regarding paid and unpaid leave from your manager or human resources manager
- If you are self-employed you may be able to find someone to step into your role for a while
- If your work includes manual tasks, talk to your doctor about whether these aspects of your job need to be modified
- If you have income protection or trauma insurance you may be eligible to make a claim while going through your treatment. Some superannuation funds include insurance – you can call your company to ask about this.
In-home child care is a service provided by an approved carer in the child's home. This is sometimes available to families with no other child care options. Contact your local Family and Community Services (FaCS) office on 1300 653 227 to find out if you are eligible.
Increased child care hours and/or special child care benefits
- If you already receive Child Care Benefit (CCB) and need to increase the number of hours of child care in any week, then ask your child care provider if you might be eligible for extra hours of CCB under the 'exceptional circumstances' provision.
- If your illness has caused financial hardship and you are having difficulties paying your portion of child care fees, you may also be eligible for up to 13 weeks of Special Child Care Benefit (SCCB)
- If your children are not in approved child care and you would like to access approved child care while you are receiving treatment, contact the Child Care Access Hotline on 1800 670 305 and they will provide you with details of approved child care services in your area
- For more information on the Child Care Benefit visit the Family Assistance Office website.
For more information on dealing with practical issues during breast cancer treatment and recovery, you might like to:
- Read the Practical Matters section in your My Journey Kit
- Download the Financial and practical assistance factsheet
- Read The Beacon Issue 56 for articles and personal stories about the financial impact of breast cancer
- Read The Beacon Issue 43 for articles and personal stories about working during, or after, treatment for breast cancer
- Visit the Cancer Australia website for information on dealing with the financial aspects of cancer
- Read the free Cancer Council booklet, Working with Cancer, which includes practical information and suggestions.
- Read the Cancer Council’s fact sheets which provide information on financial and practical matters that you may face.