Manitoba study finds financial hardship often follows cancer diagnosis
The Canadian Cancer Action Network is a national volunteer-driven organization uniting patient-centred organizations from across Canada under one umbrella, dedicated to ensuring patient interests remain a key priority on the national cancer agenda. For more information, visit the Canadian Cancer Action Network's website at www.ccanceraction.ca. (CNW Group/Canadian Cancer Action Network)
Families pushed to the financial brink as incomes decline and household costs mount
TORONTO, Nov. 1, 2012 /CNW/ - Within a year of her youngest daughter being diagnosed with cancer of the spinal cord, Teresa Solta went from being a successful business owner to a full-time caregiver with four children and very little income. One year later, the Winnipeg accountant was diagnosed with leukemia and had to stop work all together.
"I went from a thriving business with employees to having to declare bankruptcy," Solta says. "I lost my home. The five of us moved in temporarily with my parents in a two-bedroom apartment. It was hard to hear my daughter say, 'Mom, I never thought we'd be homeless.'"
This heart-breaking story is one of many that a Manitoba committee heard while developing Financial Hardship of Cancer in Canada: A Call for Action - a three-year study that chronicles the financial challenges that can come with a cancer diagnosis. Conducted by the Canadian Cancer Action Network (CCAN) and the Manitoba Division of the Canadian Cancer Society, the study found that when Canadians are diagnosed with cancer, their struggle is often financial as well as medical.
"What we learned was devastating," CCAN Chief Executive Officer Marjorie Morrison said. "We heard stories of financial hardship at various levels as incomes declined and costs associated with a cancer diagnosis increased."
"In some cases, a cancer diagnosis pushed families over a financial precipice and they could never regain their financial footing. In other cases the impact was felt for three generations."
To inform their report, the Manitoba committee reviewed 72 studies, including 55 from Canada, and then conducted interviews with key informants, including health care professionals in the cancer system, cancer patients, caregivers and family members. Their goal was to compare the research findings to the Manitoba experience.
What emerged was a consistent picture of financial pressures, often driven by outdated and inconsistent policies. In some cases a cancer diagnosis began a financial tailspin that pushed families into debt, distress, bankruptcy and sometimes a lifetime on social assistance. Even for those who were not financially devastated, family finances were negatively impacted as days off work mounted and costs increased far more than most people expected.
"This is a powerful case study that sheds light on the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis on cancer patients, their families and caregivers through compelling Manitoba stories,'' said Paul Lapierre, Vice President, Public Affairs and Cancer Control for the Canadian Cancer Society. "This report gives a voice to cancer patients and their families and highlights the vital role we can all play in bringing about change.''
The committee found that rarely is there one single factor that leads to financial hardship. Instead, those on a cancer journey may face a perfect storm of financial pressures. Incomes decline as sick time and vacation time is used up and costs increase because of unforeseen expenses, ranging from drugs and medical equipment to childcare and parking fees at health facilities. The hardship is made worse by a lack of awareness throughout the system of this financial risk facing cancer patients and their families.
"The extent to which income declined surprised us all and showed us just how few people are financially prepared for and protected from a catastrophic illness,'' said Pam King, chairperson of the Manitoba committee. "We also heard how day-to-day living costs like child care, home care and housekeeping can increase through treatment.
"Rural Manitobans were particularly vulnerable because they have additional travel and accommodation costs. Parking costs at treatment facilities were more than a minor irritant; they were a major expense.''
The Call for Action outlines areas for improvement over the next five years including:
- Improved federal supports for Canadians facing chronic illness and their caregivers
- Better statutory protections for people at risk of losing their jobs while caring for an ill family member
- Improvements to provincial welfare programs so chronically ill people can retain a greater portion of their savings
- Government coverage for all cancer treatment and support drugs in all jurisdictions
- Government reimbursement of all valid out-of-pocket expenses for medical supplies and equipment
- Relief for the cost of medical travel
- Reduction in the personal cost and time required to access cancer treatment, particularly for rural residents
- Community assistance focused on relieving the financial pressures of cancer and other serious illness
The report's action plan suggests a number of ways to address these challenges, but King said there are many more opportunities to help ease the financial burden.
"The first step is to raise awareness and build understanding,'' she said. "We hope this is the start of a national discussion that will give cancer patients a voice and build consensus around solutions.
"The bottom line is that Canadians should not be forced to deal with a financial crisis at the same time as they are dealing with a medical crisis."
King said every segment of society can play a role in addressing this challenge. She said CCAN member organizations and the Canadian Cancer Society will be encouraging individuals and other organizations to assess their risk and join the dialogue about the financial burden associated with a cancer diagnosis and to develop strategies to help.
About the Canadian Cancer Action Network
The Canadian Cancer Action Network is a national volunteer-driven organization uniting patient-centred organizations from across Canada under one umbrella, dedicated to ensuring patient interests remain a key priority on the national cancer agenda. For more information, visit the Canadian Cancer Action Network's website at www.ccanceraction.ca.
About the Canadian Cancer Society
The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.
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Image with caption: "The Canadian Cancer Action Network is a national volunteer-driven organization uniting patient-centred organizations from across Canada under one umbrella, dedicated to ensuring patient interests remain a key priority on the national cancer agenda. For more information, visit the Canadian Cancer Action Network's website at www.ccanceraction.ca. (CNW Group/Canadian Cancer Action Network)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20121101_C3870_PHOTO_EN_19972.jpg
SOURCE: Canadian Cancer Action NetworkFor further information:
Canadian Cancer Action Network
Jason Funk Permanand
Canadian Cancer Society, Manitoba Division