Home > 2015 > Managing Debt

How a 3-Time Cancer Survivor Got Her Life, Money & Career Back on Track

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 0 Comments

Starting a career is very puzzle-like. You finish school — high school, college or otherwise — and you’re sent off with all these pieces of life you need to try and put together. You dump the pieces in front of you: Do you have everything you need? What the heck is it supposed to look like?

You might as well start fiddling around, trying and failing until it starts to make sense. It’s exciting. Frustrating. Frightening. Even then, you may not like what you see, but you’re figuring it out. You’re making progress.

Imagine you’ve had this puzzle thrown at you, and you’ve barely started looking at the pieces before you get interrupted. You’ll get back to it as soon as you’re able, but when you return, it will still be a mess of fragments, while your peers have made progress toward the big picture.

One more thing: When you get back to your first puzzle, a second one has been mixed in. You have to sort through the mismatched pieces before you can hope to solve either. For Lauren Mostardi, that’s what it was like to get cancer at 22 years old.

“It’s hard enough for my friends who didn’t go through it,” Mostardi, now 28, said. “I lost five years of trying to start a career.”

Throughout those years of treatment, with limited earning potential, she fell into medical debt. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to interfere with her attempts to start life as an independent adult.

Something ‘A Little Off’

Mostardi first visited the doctor when she noticed some rashes on her skin. She later learned it probably had nothing to do with her cancer, but it’s what got her into the doctor’s office, where she had blood work done. A few days later, her doctor said the blood work was a little off, and she needed to see a specialist.

Mostardi had just started graduate school at the University of Akron, working toward a master’s degree in history. She got a call in class, and the doctor told her to come in. She went from class to the doctor’s office, then to the hospital: Mostardi had acute promyelocytic leukemia, and it needed immediate attention.

It was the beginning of many months of treatment, much of it inpatient, followed by remission, relapse, transplants and a life on hold.

Good Fortune Isn’t Always Enough

In many ways, things went as well as they could for Mostardi: She deferred her student loan payments, lived with her parents and underwent treatment that was largely covered by health insurance. She often worked part-time.

As helpful as those circumstances were, Mostardi faced many obstacles. After her first diagnosis and remission, the disease returned twice, putting her in treatment for 2 1/2 years total, followed by a year of what she describes as “intense follow-up care.” She could only work part-time because fatigue, doctor’s appointments and a related anxiety disorder prevented her from securing full-time employment. Any employment certainly helped, but she worked for minimum wage; as an adjunct faculty member, she earned even less.

“It was kinda one of those things you have enough money for everything you planned for, but if there’s one thing you didn’t plan for it’s, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?” Mostardi said.

Moving Forward

Getting through cancer was a victory, but many of the obstacles remained. Mostardi suffered vision damage as a result of treatment, but she didn’t have the money for new glasses. She still didn’t have a full-time job. Routine doctor visits continue to be a part of her life. On top of that, she had a car payment, plus auto insurance bills.

“Your car insurance people don’t care if you have cancer,” she said. “You still have to pay your bills when you have cancer.”

With the help of grants from Surviving and Moving Forward: The SAMFund for Young Adult Survivors of Cancer, an organization that supports young cancer survivors struggling with the costs of their diseases — Mostardi was able to get the new glasses and pay off about $1,000 of outstanding medical debt she had upon entering remission. Getting rid of medical debt is huge, because she doesn’t have to deal with debt collectors, and some credit scoring formulas have started to lessen the negative impact paid collection accounts have on your credit standing.

Unfortunately, Mostardi’s financial issues are common among cancer survivors. A recent report from the Washington National Institute for Wellness Solutions says 62% of cancer survivors incur debt as a result of treatment, and it’s a particularly difficult burden for survivors under the age of 50. More than half of them require financial assistance to access treatment, the report found.

Even now, Mostardi is far from having solid financial footing — the car is paid off but there are still student loan payments to make, and her medical expenses haven’t disappeared. Recently, she received several vaccinations she had already gotten as a child. Treatment wiped out her immune system, and it cost money to rebuild.

Having gone through her disease three times already, Mostardi worries about it returning, but it’s not holding her back as much as it used to. After years of sifting through that mess of career and cancer puzzle pieces, she’s been able to separate them to the best of her ability and work toward her goal of teaching history. She still doesn’t have full-time work but has two part-time jobs. She’s now married and has the support of great friends, as well.

“Personally I’m a lot more secure,” she said. “I’m optimistic.”

More on Managing Debt:

Image courtesy Lauren Mostardi

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team