Can I Get Financial Assistance if I Take a Leave of Absence From Work During Cancer Treatment?

A fellow caregiver asked...

If I need to take a temporary leave from work during cancer treatment, what financial resources are available to help me with my living expenses?

Expert Answer

Senior Editor Melanie Haiken, who is responsible for's coverage of cancer, general health, and family finance, discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions.

The first thing to do is discuss your situation with your employer. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to leave work for up to 12 weeks for medical treatment without losing their jobs. While the leave is unpaid, taking it -- as opposed to quitting -- allows you to continue your health insurance for at least 12 weeks.

Here are some basic actions you can take in this situation:

Keep employer-sponsored health insurance at all costs. One thing many cancer patients overlook while they focus on getting well is the importance of good insurance. By continuing your health insurance at the same cost, FMLA will save you an enormous amount of money in the long run. (Many small employers also do their best to comply with FMLA rules, so it's well worth negotiating with your boss to continue your insurance, even at a small company.)

Apply for short-term disability. If you live in a state that provides paid short-term disability leave, apply for this as soon as you know you'll be taking a leave from work. California, New York, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Rhode Island are the states that currently offer disability leave, while 23 other states are considering legislating this benefit.

Apply for other government aid.
If your family needs help with basic needs such as food and supplies, contact
your local Department of Human Services or Welfare Unit to apply for food stamps and other benefits. Go to or call (877) 696-6775.

Look for grant assistance.
Other financial resources available to cancer patients usually have eligibility requirements based on income and assets. So if you have savings, you will likely be expected to use them to pay for your living expenses during cancer treatment. It's always worthwhile to research each organization's criteria, though, as the cutoffs vary. Also, you can write a letter explaining that while you have savings now, at your current rate of spending you expect them to be depleted within a certain period of time. Since it takes a while to get through the grant application process, by the time you do you may qualify. Start with national organizations such as:

  • CancerCare. This arm of the American Society of Clinical Oncology has a number of different programs. Some cover the cost of cancer treatment expenses, and these tend to be earmarked for certain types of cancer. But they also have financial aid to help patients pay for transportation, childcare, or home care expenses incurred during therapy. Go to or call (800) 813-4673 for an application.
  • American Cancer Society. This organization functions more as a referral service, offering information about a variety of programs, both national and local. Special programs are available to help with wigs, transportation, and other services. Go to or call (800) 227-2345.
  • United Way. Use United Way as a clearinghouse to find local and national programs they fund. Start by going to and entering your zip code to find your local United Way agency.

Investigate assistance for specific types of cancer. Financial assistance programs of varying types covering co-pay assistance, transportation, home care, and child care are offered by many cancer organizations, including the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society,  the National Brain Tumor Society, and the Sarcoma Alliance.

To find the organizations that support patients with your type of cancer, you'll need to do some searching. Use the Internet to research, typing in both the type of cancer you have and terms such as financial assistance and financial aid. Make a list of the organizations you find, order the list in terms of the likelihood that you meet their criteria and the size of the grants they offer, and start applying.

You can also ask your doctors and fellow patients if they know of organizations that offer financial assistance to patients in your situation. If you join a cancer support group, the members of your group will likely be a good resource for this type of information.