Cancer and finances

Cancer and finances

By Andrea Whittle

When I was 30-years-old, I thought my life plan was set.

I was engaged to my mate of 12 years and we had a five-year-old son who was the centre of our small family. We had been through a lot of financial struggles in our relationship, but we always managed to get through it. We both worked in physical industries and valued the money we brought in, spending it wisely and saving it frugally.

We lived in apartments our whole relationship and dreamed big of having a house we could call our own one day. We strived for this dream and were very close to it becoming a reality. Then in November 2015, my life plan changed.

When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t think too much about finances. We were both working full-time jobs. We had money in a savings account. I spoke to my human resources rep. at work and he told me not to worry about disability insurance; I filled out the paper work correctly, he was my sponsor, he “had my back,” and I should focus on getting better.

I had been working at my job a couple of days shy of six months when I was diagnosed. I had two short weeks to prep for the fight of my life, and since work was being supportive and I had a sponsor at head office who told me not to worry about a thing, I finished off my week knowing I had an awesome company behind me and a job to return to when I finished treatment. My focus was to stay alive.

The nightmare began a few weeks after surgery. I hadn’t heard from my rep. at head office. I tried calling him and the phone just kept ringing. There wasn’t a voicemail anymore. I called my manager at work; she said not to worry and she’d figure it out. I had a lot of complications from my surgery and had to focus my energy on healing, but my mind was racing with what ifs. I had a son to provide for, rent to pay, bills, my son’s birthday was coming up in December along with Christmas, etc. My fiancé just made enough to barely cover our basic expenses. I always handled our finances; it was hard enough not working, never mind not knowing when my next pay cheque would come in.

A few weeks after talking to my manager, she still didn’t have any answers as to why our rep wasn’t answering his phone, or why there wasn’t a voicemail anymore. So I reached out to my district manager.

In the meantime, I filed for employment insurance — sick benefits. I was approved 28 days later, however, I didn’t know E.I sick benefits only cover you for 15 weeks. My treatment plan was going to be a lot longer than 15 weeks, but because my work told me I would be covered by my insurance, I tried not to stress.

When I finally heard back from my district manager I was told my rep. had quit and I would have to deal directly with the insurance company. At this point I was already on my second cycle of chemotherapy and not feeling great at all. I had zero energy to even go to the bathroom, never mind having to fight for my insurance. I hit a lot of dead ends with people who couldn’t answer my questions or even find the claim I had filed. I was told a number of times not to worry, someone will get back to me, but my E.I was up and I was stressed to the max and we had started dipping into our savings.

After three months without answers, I finally got in touch with a manager at Sun Life Financial. In less than 10 minutes, she told me I didn’t qualify for short term disability because I was two days shy of working a full six months. My sponsor at head office told me that wouldn’t make a difference and that’s what his job was for, he had my back. Well he obviously didn’t, and no one did. I felt screwed over, frustrated, defeated.

I called Service Canada and was told I should try for CPP disability, but I would most likely be denied because of my age. There wasn’t anything else they could do.

My fiancé had been laid off at this time because he worked outside and it was -40. We were solely living off our savings. I filed for CPP disability, but that would take three months to process. I was so stressed out about finances I developed shingles. I still had three more harsh chemo cycles to complete, and the shingles were spreading and becoming more and more debilitating every week.

Then the company I worked for filed for bankruptcy. That explained the lack of communication/support I received. It also added a new stress — I had no job to return to.

I applied for employment and income assistance (E.I.A.). I was told this was the last option I had. I was approved, but they barely give you enough to survive so I was still using my savings regularly. Three months later, my CPP claim had been denied because they thought I could go back to work in the foreseeable future despite facing 28 days of radiation, a year of chemo, and multiple surgeries to go. All they saw was my age.

By February 2017 I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a side effect from the Herceptin. My oncologist advised me to stay as calm as possible and not to do anything physical. It took six months for my heart to start to heal (it’s now three years later and I’m still struggling with heart issues).

By July 2017, my savings were gone. Our dream of a house had completely dissolved, just like our relationship. My partner couldn’t handle being a caregiver and started to live a separate life. I felt forced back to work to keep our family afloat. I worked from July 2017-November 2018 as a full-time retail manager. My work life ended due to lasting side effects from treatments and surgeries. I struggle with PTSD, severe depression, brain fog, and major physical limitations and complications.

I’m now raising my son on my own and struggling with that. I am back on E.I.A. (welfare), relying on handouts from my parents and friends to help keep the cupboards full. I have used government funding and am currently enrolled in college to become a human resources manager.

Cancer has taken away my old life, but I am determined to make a new successful life as an independent single mother while inspiring others and hopefully changing the system for financial support from government and insurance companies for young adults with cancer. We shouldn’t have to deal with the financial nightmare caused by cancer. There needs to be a better system in place. Without my savings, I would have been homeless on the streets, battling cancer with a six-year-old.

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