A Northern Ireland woman who was left unable to buy oil to heat her home as she battled breast cancer has told how she was driven to the brink of suicide during her ordeal.
Margaret Kelly revealed her story as a local charity called for action from Stormont to help terminally ill cancer patients unable to heat their homes.
Macmillan Cancer Support wants the Winter Fuel Payment — Government tax-free assistance for the over-60s to help cover the cost of their fuel bills — made available to the 700 people who are terminally ill from cancer in Northern Ireland every year.
With only £60 a week to pay her bills, Ms Kelly had to choose between buying food or home heating oil last Christmas.
It was only when friends and family became aware of her situation and stepped in to help that her suffering was finally brought to an end.
“I could deal with the cancer but I couldn’t deal with the cold as well,” she explained.
“It was really hard going. I was just sitting there thinking that this was going to be my life, that this was how it was going to be, and I was so depressed. I couldn’t take anymore.
“I was going to take an overdose. I rang one of the breast cancer nurses and told her how I was feeling and I have been getting counselling ever since.”
The Londonderry woman — a mother-of-two — was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2009. She is still receiving drugs to help her beat the disease.
“I found a lump in my breast but I didn’t go to the doctor straight away because I was worried about what he would tell me,” she said.
“When I did go to the GP I was sent for a mammogram and had a biopsy done and was told I had breast cancer.”
It was during treatment, when Ms Kelly was suffering from the |effects of the cancer drugs, that she ran out of oil.
“The first couple of doses were okay but then I got very tired and weak and I developed deep vein thrombosis. I had to start injections, which I am still on now.
“We ran out of oil and I |couldn’t afford to buy any more. |I was without heating for three weeks over Christmas. Fortunately I was able to stay with my |sister for about four days over Christmas, but when I wasn’t at hers it was freezing.”
“I was only getting £60 a week to live on at the time. It was a matter of eating or heating. I applied for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) but was turned down.” Heather Monteverde from Macmillan Cancer Support said an annual investment of £160,000 will wipe out fuel poverty for people dying from cancer and help ease suffering as they approach the end of their lives.
Macmillan Cancer Support is a member of the Northern Ireland Fuel Poverty Coalition, which has teamed up with the Belfast |Telegraph to demand action from Stormont.
Last month Ms Monteverde |revealed that people dying from cancer are burning their clothes and books just to keep warm.
And as hundreds of cancer patients across Northern Ireland struggle to stay warm during the record-breaking freezing temperatures, Ms Monteverde said local politicians can ensure no cancer patients have to suffer needlessly during their final months.
“At the moment the Winter Fuel Payment is given to anyone |over the age of 60 and it isn’t means-tested, so it could go to someone who has a proper income and is able to pay their fuel bills,” she explained.
“We would like to see it extended to terminally ill cancer |patients. Stormont will argue they don’t have the devolved right to award this payment to terminally ill cancer patients but we would say they have discretionary powers to make sure people living in Northern Ireland don’t have to suffer.”