Internet-Based Crowdfunding for Cancer Treatment Costs
The word is out: #cancerisntfree. We have been saying this for years in our work with The Samfund, having heard from thousands of young adult cancer survivors who have had to sacrifice life essentials like their cars, apartments, and healthy food because their treatment bankrupted them. The cost of cancer treatment goes beyond just medications, doctor and hospital copays; the collateral damage of emotional stress, ruined credit, and permanent biological repercussions like infertility and lymphedema all hit a survivor’s quality of life very hard. It pains us when young adults contact us in desperation and say they are skipping medications, forgoing meals, and facing homelessness due to their treatment. They are also confused, angry, and feel helpless that they have beaten cancer but are now saddled with enormous debt.
Back in 1999, at the age of 21, I was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. Two years later, I was diagnosed with secondary myelodysplastic syndrome as a result of the chemotherapy I had undergone. After 5 months of additional chemotherapy, I received a bone marrow transplant (thank you, Eli!) at age 23. This series of events rocked not only my world, but also that of my family and friends, too. They were so supportive in every way: providing meals for my parents and me, keeping me company at appointments, offering us a place to live during treatment, and yes, providing financial help. At that time, there was an amazing program (now defunct) at BMT Infonet, wherein friends and family members could make a tax-deductible donation to an account in my name, and we could draw on that account to cover our bills as needed. Their generosity and the program itself were a lifeline for me and my family during those very dark days.
That program was one of the only resources I knew of at the time that provided this kind of help. Today, there are similar programs that exist online, which allow people to reach out to their networks for help with medical and other costs. Here are a few of the best-known:
GoFundMe - Considered the “granddaddy” of crowdfunding sites for individuals and organizations, this site has tons of resources and tools to get you started.
Give Forward - Most campaigns on this site are medical-related, and in addition to offering donors the opportunity to send funds specifically for hospital bills and the like, they also offer a “wish list” for cancer patients that include things like comfortable clothes, head scarves, and other items to help them through their treatment.
IndieGogo - This site is predominantly known for its use by startups, and it can be challenging to wade through the sheer number of campaigns. However, since it is long established, many donors are comforted by its veracity. It also has a global reach for those with family and friends overseas who would like to donate.
StandBuy - While as of this writing, StandBuy is not currently accepting new fundraisers as they roll out some changes, we recommend this site because a) it is a uniquely cancer-related fundraising tool and b) funds raised are deposited into the recipient’s account in real time, not after a campaign ends.
There are many benefits to setting up personal campaigns on any of these sites (or others): convenience and ease of use, having a way to share your story without having to repeat it again and again, and most importantly, being able to get immediate help with some of your bills. But there are a few things to keep in mind before setting up a campaign:
- Donations made through these sites are typically not tax-deductible, since funds are going to a person rather than an individual. That said, friends and family may not necessarily care about getting a tax deduction. They just want to help you. Which leads me to…
- Few people actually like to ask friends and family for money. But many of us who have gone through treatment have been asked (probably often!), “What can I do to help?” Sites like these are one answer to this question, and are equally valuable to the people who want to help as they are to the person who needs it. (Hint: one way to get around that feeling that you’re begging for help? Ask a friend or family member to set up the page for you. Or, set it up yourself and ask a friend or family member to share it. You may be amazed at how quickly word travels.)
- Administrative fees eat into the funds raised. For example, some sites charge credit card transaction fees in addition to PayPal fees; if used together, this can total up to 8% of a donation. For a $500 donation, this is $40, which for a cancer survivor can pay for a month’s gym membership or a week’s worth of healthy meals.
It is uncomfortable to ask for help. But the reality, as we see every day at The Samfund, is that cancer is often too expensive to face alone. These and other crowdfunding sites, just as BMT InfoNet was to me, can be an invaluable resource.