You hear about different forms of poverty as we go about our daily lives, however we never hear the discussion about cancer poverty.
To be honest, until my mother in law got diagnosed with cancer I didn't even know cancer poverty was a form of poverty. Yet it exists and it is something that is occurring on a daily basis right in front of our faces.
Cancer poverty is where you can no longer afford things due to being treated for cancer. Simple fact is you can't work or if you can it is sporadic. Your partner or family member may also not be able to work because they are caring for you. You may not even have a partner or family member and are completely on your own. Your sick pay may run out or you do not get sick pay at all. You might not have had a job in the first place and relied on benefits. The benefit that you can now no longer claim because you can't sign up to work. You may not have had life cover to provide you with an income and it may be you are not entitled to any benefits at all. So what do you do when you are in a position beyond your control faced with hardship?
You can't plan or prepare to get cancer. No one does. Therefore, when someone is diagnosed this is another major worry that rears its ugly head.
So you do the best you can to afford the roof over your head, pay the bills and get food on the table. The companies don't care whether you are ill or not, they just want to be paid. So once, that is all paid where are you going to find money for costs such as hospital parking, TV costs in hospital (yes this is a thing!) or items such as your favourite toiletries or magazine. You try and find a way to fund this, which means getting in debt to fund it. Stick it on a credit card, get a loan or go into your overdraft and worry about paying it back later.
It is such a stressful time. When you lose things that were considered part of everyday life that are now luxuries. It is another reminder that you have cancer. It is another thing that gets you down.
That is why my husband and I started our charity The Lewis Foundation. We spent about four years in and out of hospital. We have seen and experienced cancer poverty, so we understand how tough it is.
I remember originally in the private rooms on the cancer ward it cost £10 a day or £35 a week to watch TV. Really, should it ever cost that much to watch TV? So to save money, we used to smuggle in a TV from home because £35 a week is something that no one can afford. Yes, it must have looked pretty random with us walking round the place with a TV under our arm like we had robbed the place. However, it was worth the weird looks as something as small as being able to watch a TV is a distraction. It enables you to switch off, so you're not staring at four walls just thinking about what you are going through.
I was getting wound up constantly seeing these TVs, so I had to do something about it. So, what I did was signed myself up to Tough Mudder and Rat Race Dirty Weekend because I didn't want anyone in the 14 private rooms to have to pay to watch TV. I didn't know what I was signing up for, it was a case of I need to do something crazy to raise some money and let's turn up and see what happens. Boy, was that a shock to the system and I mean literally, when I got electric shocked at Tough Mudder. Yet, despite the pain, cuts, bruises and scars over two years I raised enough money for 14 TV and DVD players. Nothing makes me happier than when I go into the hospital and see people watching them, with the ones people used to have to pay for pushed to the side.
However, Lee and I wanted to do something more on a long term basis which is why in April 2016 we set up our charity The Lewis Foundation.
Every Friday we hand out free gift bags to adults with cancer in Northampton General. The gift bags go to day patients and overnight stay patients. The patients can choose from a choice of 12 gift bags, which ranges from portable radios, magazines, craft packs and pamper packs. The aim is to take people's mind off thinking about cancer and give them something nice to look forward to. It is also to reduce social isolation by spending time talking with the patient once they have received the gift bag.
It removes the worry of affording these items. Whilst, these items may not seem important when you are in hospital they become important.
For example a few ladies had asked me if I do cross stitch magazines. I said I don't but let me sort one out for you the following week. So, I thought let me go and get some. They ranged from £4.99 to £10! I thought are you serious, they are so expensive! This is an example of why we do the gift bags we do, so that people can continue to have some sense of normality whilst they go through their treatment.
Since we started in April 2016, we have given out over 1500 gift bags to adults with cancer in Northampton. We both do this around our full time jobs, it is never a chore for us. It makes us happy and we have met the most incredible people along the way. Whilst, we can make a difference then we will continue to hand out these gift bags.
If you want to find out more about what we do or how you can help us, please visit:
Our website: www.thelewisfoundation.co.uk