We all know cancer is expensive. Considering the typical cancer drug costs more than double an average person’s annual income for just one year of treatment, it can be difficult for patients to tackle the mounting medical bills. Beyond treatment itself, travel and lodging cost cancer patients millions of dollars each year to ensure they can get the best care possible. For many mesothelioma patients, travel is almost unavoidable as specialists or available clinical trials are less abundant and spread out around the country.
Patients shouldn’t have to turn away from better, needed care because of the cost of treatment itself or the secondary costs of such care. Mesothelioma patient Mavis Nye had to travel a 130 mile round trip every three weeks to participate in a clinical trial at the Royal Marsden Hospital. Her immunotherapy treatment itself only took an hour, and she made the long back-and-forth commute for two years. Those commutes were so worth it though, since the treatment saved her life and she’s been in remission ever since.
Fortunately, there are many resources available to help patients afford these secondary costs of travel and lodging and help plan financially for their care.
Travel Assistance Organizations
For some patients, traveling a longer distance so often like Mavis did for her treatment is not an easy decision to reach. Constant travel on top of the medical bills themselves can feel entirely overwhelming, and force some patients to not even consider seeking treatment at a farther distance from home.
There are a variety of organizations that help cancer patients travel, whether it’s to an appointment nearby or seeking care at a hospital across the country. Some organizations are open to patients with any kind of cancer or debilitating medical condition, while some others focus on specific medical eligibility criteria.
Options for Local Travel
Even for those traveling close to home for treatment or various doctor’s appointments, it can be difficult to easily get back and forth. If you can’t take yourself or loved ones aren’t available, there are some programs that can take away the stress of wondering how you can get there.
American Cancer Society offers a “Road to Recovery” program in various locations throughout the country. The program has volunteer drivers that will take any kind of cancer patients to their appointments specifically for treatment for free. To be eligible, patients must be able to walk unassisted or have a caregiver available to assist them to and from the vehicle.
Good Days is another organization that helps patients with a variety of assistance needs, including transportation. Good Days offers local and long-distance transport services. Eligible patients must be approved for the travel program at least 2 days before their scheduled appointment.
Patients should also look for specific non-emergency medical transportation companies in their state. Some of these services are for a specific county or city, while others will operate throughout a particular state or several states. It’s important to remember, however, the cost of these services will vary greatly based on the company.
Options for Long Distance Travel
For patients who have longer distances to travel to reach their cancer clinics for treatment, there are many organizations that offer free or reduced flights around the country for eligible patients.
Corporate Angel Network, Angel Flight, Lifeline Pilots and Air Charity Network are volunteer-run organizations that all offer cancer patients and others facing a variety of medical diagnoses free transportation. In general, these organizations are for patients in financial distress who have non-emergency medical needs.
In addition to these various services that provide free or discounted flights for patients, Angel Wheels to Healing offers long-distance transportation by bus, train, volunteer drivers, or provide gas cards to offset the cost of fuel for those who have personal transportation.
Finding Affordable Lodging
For many patients and their families, travel won’t be a simple back-and-forth trip. Depending on the treatment or clinical trial, patients will often need to stay at their hospital or medical center for longer periods of time. It can be challenging for family members to find affordable extended stay options nearby, but there are a variety of organizations around the country that may help.
Cancer Center Hospitality Housing
Many hospitals or cancer centers have their own relationships with neighboring hotels for discounted rates or offer their own form of lodging. Sometimes hotels even with a medical rate can be too expensive for some patients or booking an extended stay can become problematic, so it’s important to research other backup options as well.
For hospitals that have their own lodging available, patients or their family members who will be staying typically have to meet some basic criteria dependent on the circumstances of the stay. In general, guests would need to be healthy themselves and able to care for themselves. Patients are only eligible for these extended stays while in active treatment, and must prove they have a permanent address to return to after treatment is completed.
Specific requirements and the type of accommodations available will vary, and will need to be discussed with a hospital social worker. Most of the time, these stays can only be booked via a referral from the social worker in the first place.
Organizations like the American Cancer Society also provide lodging solutions for patients. Their Hope Lodge program is a network of 32 housing facilities around the country and in Puerto Rico that continues to grow to serve more cities in need. The Hope Lodges offer a home-like environment, with private apartments and common areas for cancer patients and caregivers to support one another. At their most recent estimate, the program was able to provide lodging for 44,000 patients in 2014, which saved over $36 million. Keep in mind, these facilities tend to fill up quickly.
Healthcare Hospitality Network is another great resource for patients and their families in need of long-term lodging. This national nonprofit offers over 200 lodging options that are either free or offered at a reduced rate. Though there are a variety of accommodations through this resource, many are set up as a communal living with private bedrooms to feel like a home.
Resources like Joe’s House can also help narrow down your search, as the site provides listings of available discounted extended stays and other lodging options by state. Patients can sort by rate or by proximity to their medical center. Again, the facilities included on this site will have their own eligibility criteria, and may also need a referral from a social worker.
These are just a sampling of resources available to help alleviate the costs of cancer and make the cancer journey a little bit easier.