The Financial Fallout for Families Affected by Cancer Can Be a Terrifying Reality

10/05/2016 14:26 | Updated 10 May 2016

It's tough being a parent at the best of times but when you've been diagnosed with cancer it can be a million times harder. As Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, I often meet parents who have been hit by a cancer diagnosis, putting on a brave face for their children, telling them everything is going to be OK, while grappling with their fears about what their treatment will involve or if they'll pull through. And new research out today shows that thousands of parents are dealing with yet another huge burden - money worries caused by their cancer diagnosis.

Our new analysis shows that the average British family simply cannot afford to get cancer. Having the disease costs 4 in 5 patients an average of £570 per month. This is a combination of incurring extra costs such as travel to hospital or increased heating bills, as well as losing income if they are too ill to work. But we know families have nowhere near that figure once they've paid for essentials such as their rent or mortgage, food and travel. Not only are parents worrying about getting through their cancer, they are worrying about keeping a roof over their heads.

Elaine, 50, from County Durham, knows only too well the financial cost cancer had on her family.

Her first worry after she found a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, was: "Will I survive?" But a month after her diagnosis, the company she worked for went into liquidation and she needed gruelling treatment. She had no job and no way of paying her bills. Her main worry became whether she could provide for her 15-year-old daughter Beth and keep a roof over their heads.

But like many others - at least one in four people living with cancer experience a range of long-term debilitating health conditions - Elaine faced mobility issues as a result of her treatment and was never well enough to return to work as she'd hoped.

She had no choice but to sell the home she'd worked tirelessly for. A slump in the housing market meant her house had fallen into negative equity, so she had to declare herself bankrupt. Cancer stripped her of her health, dignity and security.

Sadly, Elaine is just one of many parents faced with this terrifying reality.

We all read the news. We know that thousands of families are struggling to make ends meet as it is. For parents, cancer can be the straw that breaks the camel's back, sending them into financial freefall, forcing them into debt. This is a time when they need to look after themselves and those around them most, but many are forced to make impossible decisions to make ends meet when the financial freight train hits.

And this isn't something that is going to go away. Macmillan predict half the population are going to get cancer at some point in their lives by 2020, which begs the question - how many more families are going to have to make these unimaginable sacrifices to keep their families afloat when they are going through one of the toughest fights of their life?

Thankfully help is out there. Elaine had a Macmillan nurse who helped her apply for a Macmillan grant to pay for a washing machine when hers broke and put her in contact with our dedicated benefits advice team to help her get what she was entitled to. Macmillan's Financial Guidance team can also help people unlock their pensions and insurances so they can access much-needed cash.

Elaine was at rock bottom but things are now looking up - she's busy being a grandmother and her daughter is training to become a nurse. She isn't alone. Macmillan has helped thousands of families deal with money worries during cancer so they can focus on what's important to them.

Sometimes the simplest things make a difference. It could be a familiar face filling out those complicated financial forms or a few hundred pounds through the post, that prevent you having to choose between heating the house or eating dinner. No person or family with cancer needs to face these financial worries alone.