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The Unspoken Toll of Cancer (cont.)

For three weeks now, we have been sharing stories about the impact a critical illness such as cancer can have, well beyond the physical effects.  Here are 2 more true stories that we hope will cause you to stop for a moment, take stock of your situation and really consider what could be at risk.  What impact would "your" critical illness have on your spouse?  Your kids?  Your parents?

This is Sue's story.

Her cancer is gone, but so is her sense of financial security.

The clock is ticking down and Sue needs to make a tough decision. Should she return to a stressful job that she fears may hurt her health, or should she risk having no insurance benefits?

It's a difficult choice for a 30-something breast cancer survivor, still weak from difficult chemotherapy and barely able to make the minimum payment on her credit card.

With her insurance benefits running out, Sue's employer is pressuring her to return to her demanding job. Meanwhile, her doctor has increased her heart medication and told her to avoid undue stress.

Health-wise, her best option might be to find a new, less-stressful job. But if she moves to a different employer, her new group insurance plan may not cover her for a pre-existing condition. That means she could find herself without any benefits if her cancer returns.

Tapped-out financially, Sue can't delay her decisions about returning to work.

Within six months of her surgery, her savings were exhausted and she was starting to move into debt.

Even though she had drug coverage, she still had to pay a portion of expenses like $40 anti-nausea pills.

In the midst of her ordeal, Sue's car broke down and she was assessed a $4,000 fee for condo renovations. All she could do was cry. Now she owes money to her parents and can't even begin to think about when or how she will pay it back.

Today she's running out of options. During a difficult recovery, she's used up sick time, holiday time and short-term disability benefits. Her long-term disability will run out soon.

The future looks much different to Sue today than it did two years ago. What a difference two years can make, when cancer comes into a young life.


This is Brenda's story.

It began with hopes for a better life, before cancer and a lack of child care split her family apart.

Brenda was new to her rural community when she discovered she had breast cancer.

She had just left a difficult marriage and was now facing a mastectomy and aggressive chemotherapy. She also had three young children and no real friends in her new community.

Brenda knew she would be too sick to take care of her kids as she underwent intensive treatment, and there was no one she could rely on to do it for her. She certainly couldn't afford to pay someone on her income. Her only choice was to temporarily send her children into the care of a family services agency - a move that was terribly upsetting for the whole family.

Brenda's difficulties continued as she underwent post-surgery treatment. With no well-organized community care sites in the area, she often had to travel long distances for treatments and follow-up. The cost of travel, accommodation and meals piled up.

At the same time, Brenda was dealing with intense feelings of isolation. A stranger to her neighbours, she was given no help from community fundraisers and service clubs.

She received none of the support and kindness that can ease financial and spiritual burdens at such a difficult time.

Twenty years later, Brenda still feels the hurt of those lonely, desperate days.

She reunited with her children after recovering, but their relationship has always been strained. Although she remarried several years ago, she lives with feelings of guilt that her ongoing battle with cancer has been an unfair financial burden to her husband.

Today, Brenda hopes she may finally be getting back on her feet, emotionally and financially. However, as she waits for a biopsy on her lung, she knows that further challenges may be ahead.