Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Safety net fails to catch cancer patients: study

Recommends more supports for chronically ill

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TERESA Solta was a self-employed accountant with a successful business in 2000 when her youngest daughter was diagnosed with spinal-cord cancer.

Two years later, Solta herself, then a single mother of four, was diagnosed with leukemia.

The illnesses devastated the family in more ways than one. Solta couldn't work and eventually had to declare bankruptcy. The family of five had to squeeze into Solta's parents' two-bedroom apartment.

"While Marisa was alive, she needed full-time care," said Solta, referring to the daughter she lost to cancer in 2010. "There was no way I could work."

According to a study published Thursday by the Canadian Cancer Action Network and the Canadian Cancer Society's Manitoba division, the financial hardship Solta and her family suffered is hardly unique.

The report found a "definite and growing pattern of financial hardship" that its authors called "alarming."

Families often suffer from a loss of income and see their expenses rise, the study said.

There are gaps in federal social-safety-net programs. For instance, Employment Insurance illness benefits last only 15 weeks, far shorter than the treatment period for many cancers.

"Manitobans should not be forced to deal with a financial crisis at the same time as they are dealing with a medical crisis," said Mark McDonald, executive director of the cancer society's Manitoba division.

The report recommends improved federal supports for chronically ill people and their caregivers, asks that provincial welfare programs be amended so cancer patients don't have to deplete their entire savings before qualifying for assistance, and advocates for government relief for medical travel costs.

It also recommends other provinces follow Manitoba's lead in providing coverage for all cancer treatment and support drugs.

The report said the good news is there are more cancer survivors in Canada than before. Many are living much longer -- and with a higher quality of life -- than would have been thought possible just a few decades ago.

"With proper supports, many should be able to remain productive and financially self-sufficient in the long term," it said.

Solta has only been able to return to work in the past year. She works for the Winnipeg YMCA-YWCA. Her surviving children, a son and two daughters, are all grown up.

She said she has no prescription for how to help cancer sufferers and their families cope with the financial costs of the disease, but she's happy the issue is being raised.

"People need to talk about what happens... so that together we can start making some changes and prevent this from happening to other people," she said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 A4

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