I was more worried about my finances than my cancer
A mother-of-two has told how she struggled to afford to pay for food for her family and heat her home after she was diagnosed with cancer.
Michelle Roe (36) said her devastating diagnosis was made even more difficult as she was faced with the crippling financial effects of the disease.
Her story emerged as a leading cancer charity called on the Executive to use some of its unspent millions to fund a winter fuel payment for cancer patients.
In 2010 the Belfast Telegraph revealed terminally ill cancer patients were burning clothes and books just to stay warm, and it has also emerged others have to decide between spending money on food or fuel.
Mrs Roe had to go through multiple operations including a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy after being told she had skin and cervical cancer in April 2011.
The mum from Mallusk, whose children are aged nine and 11, found her gas bill almost doubled to £80 a month during her treatment.
"The financial worry was actually worse than the worry over the cancer because you just couldn't stop worrying about how you were going to pay for everything," she said.
Mrs Roe, who had to give up working in a hairdressers during her treatment, said: "I felt extremely fatigued, was very ill with the chemotherapy. I was very sick.
"I was constantly in bed vomiting. I needed the heating.
"I couldn't have sat here without the heating, especially in the winter months. I wasn't able to work.
"My husband was supposed to support me but one wage doesn't go very far now."
Last year Macmillan handed out £353,500 to 1,632 cancer patients to help them pay to heat their homes.
Now the charity has called on politicians here to make a commitment to ease the burden of cancer patients fighting for their lives by making the £100 winter fuel payment every year if a Government underspend is identified.
It comes weeks after Finance Minister Sammy Wilson announced a £42m underspend will be used to fund a range of departmental projects, such as paying for health service patients to be treated in private clinics.
Macmillan's general manager in Northern Ireland Heather Monteverde said: "We want the Executive to commit to ensuring that in the future, a winter fuel payment for cancer patients is one of the first initiatives the Executive considers when it comes to reallocating this unspent cash."
Ms Monteverde said such a move would cost £700,000 – just 1.6% of the money left over this year – and would ensure the money is being used for a valuable purpose.
The public has voted firmly in favour of helping cancer patients pay to heat their homes. A poll commissioned by Macmillan Cancer Support has found people are overwhelmingly in favour of the Executive providing financial assistance to people fighting cancer. The survey, carried out by Ipos Mori, asked people whether they believed the Executive should give cancer patients the £100 winter fuel payment to help cover their fuel bills and 88% of people said they should get the help.