Belfast Telegraph

The cancer patient who is risking her health just to make ends meet

A cancer survivor has told how she has been forced to return to work to make ends meet, even though it could put her health at risk.

Patricia Cumming (64) is a part-time care worker who helps people settle back at home after a long hospital stay. But after fighting bowel cancer, her GP told her working with people who may be unwell could compromise her own health.

However, Ms Cumming is back at work waiting to find out whether she qualifies for Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which would give her the financial stability to be able to put her own health first.

A cancer diagnosis can be devastating for many reasons — in addition to the emotional turmoil and physical consequences of the illness, patients can experience extra stress brought on by money worries.

Many people are unable to work during their treatment and research by Macmillan Cancer has found 6% of people diagnosed with the disease lose their home because they cannot afford to pay their mortgage.

This figure rises further to 11% for people who are self-employed.

While there are benefits available for people fighting cancer, patients are not always aware of the money they are entitled to.

The number of people surviving longer and even beating cancer is on the rise, but Macmillan Cancer has said many are not given the assistance and support they require at a stage when they may still be living in the shadow of the disease.

Ms Cumming explained: “I am back at work now because I have to pay my bills but my GP has told me it isn’t the best thing for me.

“After my treatment I am more susceptible to bugs and germs and I am working with people who are just coming out of hospital.

“Some of them aren’t very well and you do get people with kidney infections and things like that, so it isn’t very good for me to be around them.

“I didn’t know I was entitled to any help until I spoke to Macmillan and they told me I might be able to get DLA. They filled out the forms for me as well. They are very complicated, even with them doing it for me it still took an hour.

“When you are ill you are just exhausted and trying to find information or fill in forms is really difficult.

“I’m still waiting to see if I’m going to get DLA, but if I do it will be a great weight off my mind as I will be able to stop working and still pay my bills.”

The Holywood woman, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in February and underwent gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy, also said the practicalities of cancer treatment can be challenging.

“You don’t think about these things until you’re actually in this position and they are all an extra worry you don’t need,” she said.

“Getting to and from the hospital for treatment would have been very difficult as I don’t have any family except a cousin and she works, so she wasn’t able to help me.

“But it was organised for a volunteer to take me to and from hospital, which was a great help.

“I wouldn’t have been able to rely on public transport, because I was very sore from the treatment which made it difficult to walk, drive or sit down for long periods of time, and I also had bad diarrhoea.

“The volunteers are people who have been affected by cancer themselves, so they know what you’re going through and that was a great help.

“If it wasn’t for the lifts, I would have had to pay for taxis to and from hospital, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford that.”

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