With my charity work increasing rapidly now, I have had so many conversations with both patients and health professionals about the issues during and after cancer treatment. It has shocked me how so many people are barely surviving financially once cancer enters their lives. Broken families, people living apart with dependent children, older people living on their own, and also regular people struggling with work and benefit issues. I knew things were bad but I hadn’t quite realised how bad they were. All the benefit advisors that I have met are absolutely full with people asking advice, with very little immediate help available. Yes there are some grants available but in many cases you have to almost jump through a hoop to get them.
In my own case the cancer frightened me less than losing my income! I managed to work through three months of chemotherapy then could work no longer and my salary stopped, as I was self employed. Our household income was halved overnight and the thought of that happening as I faced my stem-cell transplant and six weeks in isolation was not what I wanted. Yet we were lucky, we did have another income and no dependents, it was like hell for a long time, but we managed to get back on track and are used to living a different lifestyle now.
But reality for many is not like this. Barely money to put food on the table or new clothes to wear. Rent or mortgage looking almost impossible to pay every month. One breadwinner in hospital for treatment trying to look after children. This is the side of cancer that very few people mention. Of course it is not like that for everyone, the lucky ones go in and out of treatment fairly seamlessly and manage to get back to work, to keep the wheels turning. But even then in the longer term they may suffer from ‘late effects’ of treatment.
Some of us may receive benefits and others not at all. Cancer being a very grey area when it comes to state handouts. But the thought of going from a very financially independent person, to relying on state crumbs can be a massive psychological blow. Especially when it is no fault of your own! There are many theories out there that cancer is stress related, and I personally wouldn’t argue with that, so can you imagine the extra financial stress placed on you, after cancer treatment? With that and the constant worry of recurrence, you can see how many people may get depressed.
Nothing can prepare you for these situations, but I am still shocked that we see these things in the UK in 2016. I do appreciate that in many other countries there are no benefits to rely on, and even worse, the treatment has to be paid for too. So how do these patients manage? I have many followers in India and Pakistan who tell me they don’t even have the money to travel to hospital, let alone for the treatment.
It is of course very difficult to fight for things once you have had cancer treatment, and that is the time when you really shouldn’t have to. But in reality you need to, or you will be left alone with no one to help you. There is much written information in handy booklets or of course, plenty on charity websites or the Internet in general, but very little of it reflects the reality of trying to juggle, work family and finances after a cancer diagnosis.
In recent weeks I have seen the rich resources of understanding given from staff in information centres and nurses on the front line. all doing their best to help the constant stream of patients. There seems to be a never ending cycle, and of course as figures suggest that one in two of us will be affected by cancer by 2020 that cycle will be getting bigger. Charities are all doing what they can but we are just putting our fingers in the dam to stop small leaks, and not getting anywhere near the real problem.
This is an issue for all societies to tackle. Of course we need to continue our valued research and hope that one day we may be able to stop some of the cancers at source, but the real problem here is the number of people surviving cancer. So many now living with cancer poverty having a tremendous social impact. The current system will just not be able to cope and we will start to see a very health divided society. Already the work place is a very difficult place to be for someone with cancer, either getting into it or staying in it! I see plenty of jobs suitable for people affected by cancer but it means making the work place and employment procedure much more flexible, which I can’t see happening in the near future.
It is not just people with cancer that face these issues, but many with other long term health conditions too. We live in a rapidly ‘progressing’ world and we need to work out how we can help people who get ill remain with the rest of society and not facing many penalties because all that happened to them was that they got sick!
I am an official support partner of the Grove Hotel in Bournemouth. The only hotel in the UK specifically for people affected by cancer and other life limiting conditions.