BC cancer patient warns of difficulty in turning to government programs

The woman said her financial struggles were nearly as serious as the disease itself

BC cancer patient warns of difficulty in turning to government programs
People living with cancer face not only a serious physical challenge, but also a financial one as it forces them away from work. There are numerous programs Canadians living with the disease can fall back on, but one BC patient’s experience shows it may not be enough.

On December 22, Ellen Phillipson was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, reported the Peninsula News Review.  Following a mastectomy on January 19, she underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments that started on March 22.

Decades of working life — 10 years of which were spent as a hotel room attendant — could not prepare her for a prolonged period without a pay cheque. “You’re only allowed 15 weeks when you’re on medical employment insurance (EI), and I was still undergoing chemo when that ran out in April,” she told the Review.

She soon realized that after her EI payments ran out, her only options were to either collect social assistance or try to access short-term disability through her Canada Pension Plan. When she submitted her disability application in June, she learned that the process can take three to four months. While waiting, she applied for social assistance, which amounts to $610 monthly.

Late in August, her disability application was turned down. She was told her condition doesn’t count as a severe or prolonged disability. Severe disability payments are provided in cases of a mental or physical condition that prevents a return to work for an extended time, while prolonged payments are granted when the time away from work is likely to be indefinitely long, or likely to end in death.

While Phillipson could appeal the decision, it could take another few months to deliberate, and she hopes to be working again before that. In the meantime, she has to shoulder numerous expenses herself, including the cost of some medications that aren’t covered through the Medical Services Plan. She also faces a lifetime of having to take hormone therapy medication.

“It’s really scary how fast the money goes when there’s none coming in,” she said. The BC Hospitality Foundation, an organization that assists hotel and hospitality workers in times of emergency, provided her with a $5,000 grant, which she is grateful for.

Her experience with cancer has been hard, but it has also taught her a valuable lesson she wants to share.

“As soon as you’re diagnosed, take care of all the paperwork immediately,” she said. “Once you’re diagnosed, everything happens so fast. You’re so sick, lying in bed. If you’re not prepared [financially, and for the necessary applications and paperwork] it just adds a whole other level of stress.

“I’m not looking for handouts … If [my story] helps one person be prepared for the personal hardships you can face, it’s worth it.”

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