Belfast Telegraph

Dying cancer patients burn their clothes for heat

People dying from cancer are burning their clothes and books just to keep warm, according to carers.

A leading cancer charity has revealed the appalling conditions some of the most ill people in Northern Ireland are facing, as it demands action from Stormont.

Macmillan Cancer general manager Heather Monteverde said the financial implications of a cancer diagnosis can be truly devastating, with some people unable to pay for food, mortgages or fuel to heat their homes.

She explained: “I spoke to one man whose wife had been diagnosed with cancer.

“He was self-employed and couldn’t work while she was ill as he had to look after her and take her to hospital.

“Fortunately, his wife recovered but he lost his business.”

“He told me that was the price he had to pay for her health.”

Ms Monteverde said there were even more harrowing tales.

“I’m aware of terminally ill people who can’t afford to heat their home at the end of their life.

“Certainly last winter we heard of patients burning clothes, books and basically burning anything they could to stay warm just because they couldn’t afford a fill of oil.

“Cancer can be a very expensive illness for a lot of people.

“The treatments can take months or even years and very few people can afford not to work for that length of time.

“There are additional costs to take into consideration as well.

“A lot of people need their heating on all the time and they also have to pay for their travel to and from hospital.

“Some people need a special diet which may cost extra money.

“Some people lose weight and others put on a lot of weight because of the treatments and they don’t fit into their clothes but then can’t afford to buy new clothes.”

Figures from the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry reveal there were more than 64,000 people with cancer who were of voting age at the end of 2008.

Referring to these figures, Ms Monteverde continued: “One in three people in Northern Ireland will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

“These are figures the politicians can’t ignore and we want this issue to be at the top of the agenda in the next Assembly election.

“The ability to heat your home is a basic human right.

“We’re also aware of people who are terminally ill and, because they can’t afford to heat their home, they stay in bed instead of being up and about and making the most of the last few months of their lives.

“They should be enjoying what is left of their life and living it to the full instead of staying in bed because it is the only way to stay warm.

“We want the Assembly to work together for a better deal for cancer patients.”

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