Managing Cancer-Related Paperwork

If you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer, do yourself a stress-reducing favor right now, before you begin treatment: Set up an easy-to-use system for managing the “paper trail” of your cancer journey. The system will help you keep your papers organized and your bills paid while you cope with any treatment side effects you may experience. The system also will make it easier to find documents at tax time if you plan to file an itemized return and take deductions for cancer-related expenses.

Ask your doctor for copies of key medical records, such as pathology, x-ray and laboratory reports, hospital summaries, clinic notes and consultations. If you already have a system for paying bills and filing important documents, just add files for your cancer paperwork. For helpful tips, follow our step by step approach.

The ideal arrangement is to designate one place in your house as “paperwork central.” Keep bill-paying supplies (such as pens, checkbook, calculator, envelopes and stamps) at that location, as well as a computer if you pay some bills online. Store your document files nearby for easy access.

Select the File Storage Method

It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive —for example, cardboard boxes with lids can do the job. Other options include a file cabinet or plastic totes designed for paperwork storage. Office supply stores are a good place to look for storage solutions.

Organize the Files

Label file folders for the various kinds of paperwork you’ll store, including file folders for cancer-related documents such as these:

Medical papers. Include pathology reports from biopsies or surgery, operative reports from surgery, treatment reports and hospital discharge summaries. Keep notes taken during visits and phone calls with members of your cancer care team, as well as any related letters or e-mails. These documents will help you explain your type of cancer and the way it was treated when you see other doctors after your cancer treatment.

Bills from providers. When you receive a bill or statement of account, put it in an “unpaid bills” file. Jot the date received on the bill. Add notes indicating when claims were filed, when insurance payments were received and when you paid the provider any balance due. Attach letters, e-mails and notes from phone calls regarding each bill. When a bill is finally paid, file it in a separate file for that provider.

Insurance paperwork. Establish a folder for each insurer, including government programs such as Medicare and life, disability and long-term-care insurers, if you have those types of insurance. If you must file claims directly with an insurer, keep a copy of each claim. Also keep explanations of benefits paid, records of insurance payments, correspondence regarding claims and notes from phone calls. Your policy, benefits booklet and other materials from the insurer should also be in the file.

Receipts for other expenses. These include pharmacy receipts and receipts for other expenses you paid, such as those incurred while traveling for cancer care.

Information about financial assistance organizations. These organizations can help if you have trouble paying cancer-related expenses that are your responsibility. Keep a file for each organization you deal with, including applications you submit, correspondence, notes from phone calls and records of any financial assistance they provide.

Living will and durable power of attorney for health care. Keeping these documents with your cancer-related paperwork makes them easy to retrieve if needed.

Contact information. Consider keeping a list of all of your health care contact information in one file — including names, titles, addresses, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and fax numbers — and updating the list when changes occur.

Strive for Consistency

Once your system is up and running, consistent use is the key to success. For example, set a regular time to pay bills, and file new documents quickly so you don’t lose track of them. Place them in the folder in a consistent order, such as by date with new documents added in front. If you travel for cancer care, keep trip-related receipts in one place, such as your billfold or a zippered purse compartment.

Select a Helper

There may come a time during treatment when you just don’t feel up to dealing with paperwork. That’s why now is a good time to identify a relative or trusted friend who could step in when you need help. Prepare a list of instructions your helper can follow to pay bills and file documents for you.

More Tips for Taming the Paper Blizzard

To reduce unwanted mail, opt out of receiving unsolicited credit and insurance offers by calling 888-5OPTOUT — 888-567-8688.

You also can opt out for many direct-mail solicitations. Register online with the Direct Marketing Association at, or contact DMA Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512.

If you have a computer, cut the number of checks you write and mail by using online bill pay, available free from many banks. Set up automatic bill pay for bills that are the same amount each month.

Additional Sources of Information