I’m still less than 30 days into a breast cancer diagnosis, I have not yet had surgery, chemo, or radiation. In fact, I have had lots of diagnostics but no actual treatment.

The bill so far has passed $14,285. So far Insurance has covered $4,749. That’s the math of cancer. These numbers change day by day, and it is something of a one way street – the numbers only go up from here.

Here’s where I say something spiritual about trusting in God to be our provision. Sometimes we say the glib things like that because we want to sound spiritual. The truth is, it’ll be a journey. Some days I will feel that God’s got this, and other days I may not be so in touch with my faith and spiritual practice, and that’s fine. All the emotions on the spectrum are valid, acceptable, and authentic. We’re just going to keep walking this path and try to keep the platitudes to a minimum.

Nobody reading this needs a spiritual sounding lie, and nobody needs to be shamed for seeing this differently than I do. We will inevitably feel the fear that there may be nothing left in the end. And that’s ok.

I do have a deep and abiding anger that politically we have not found a way to take financial catastrophe out of the already difficult challenge of sudden onset sick care costs in the US. 1 in 8 women have breast cancer in their lives, and that represents a lot of people dealing with massive overnight financial devastation… at precisely the moment when fear has a literal detrimental effect on health. That’s grotesque.

Something someone said in class this week got me thinking about the close connection between financial “net worth” and a sense of personal worth and value. We have billions of dollars of marketing aimed at our eyes telling us that we are somehow broken, wrong, or lacking… unless we purchase a product that will magically make us SOMEBODY. The whole point of effective marketing is to take dead aim at our most delicate sense of lack and not-enoughness. So for many of us, big financial bills not only hit us in the pocket, but it also hits us squarely in our sense of identity. This journey isn’t easy. Thing is, my value (and yours) isn’t determined by what we own or don’t own. We have value just by nature of being made in the image of God. Wealth or poverty – neither one define our personal value in the world.

Do I love fine things? I enthusiastically do. However, I continue to affirm that these things don’t make me who I am. And if I were to lose them, it won’t make me less me. It would be tough of course, but loss doesn’t change who I am.

And so I offer you firm solidarity in your own healing journey – whether you are healthy, patient, or spouse. It’s ok to very honestly say that the financial aspects of a big diagnosis really suck! I see you. I see the challenge. I understand the fear. My compassion is with you. I can’t guarantee that you’ll always be able to feel God’s presence with you through it, but I do know that you are not alone. Sending you so much love!

4 responses to “Cancer Math”

  1. Cindy Avatar

    I totally agree with you. Our health care system is broken and that in itself is harmful. Thank you, Carmen for this thought provoking post.


  2. Dina Van Lear Avatar
    Dina Van Lear

    Sending love back to you. my son ,who you met at your wedding, needed two heart surgeries as a newborn and a 2 year old, that caused me to have a bankruptcy with my divorce from his dad. Inova Fairfax, although an excellent hospital, were very aggressive at trying to get the almost hundred thousand dollar bill which of course I didn’t have. I had insurance by the way from my job.


  3. Amanda Avatar

    😡🤬 it makes me so angry! I have been doing some financial education lately, which is great but these are the things that can undo everything in a matter of seconds.
    Six years ago, we rushed selah straight from the doctor to the hospital thinking her appendix was exploding. The intake lady asked me if I knew the cost and that insurance might not cover it. I said “what do you want me to say to that?! My child could die!” We had a ct done and discovered a massive kidney bladder infection. She was in the hospital 2-3 days (I can’t even remember exactly) Insurance denied the claim because we didn’t do the ultrasound first. Wait, so I am supposed to call, wait on hold forever, find out which test to do first even though our doctor freaking rushed us to the hospital?! At that point we had back up medicaid that picked up the bill…even after the doctors filled a claim to fight the denial. It makes me so angry. So tax payers foot the bill for insurance companies that make tons of money off of people who are sick and don’t have the luxury of time to process or the ability to process what order to do things in. The professionals who tell us what to do apparently have no say and the insurance wins. Now I am pissed thinking about it again 🤣
    Definitely thinking of you


    1. Carmen Shenk Avatar

      That stress on top of the stress of Selah’s illness was unkind and unjust. I’m so sorry that happened to you. 💜💙💚


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