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Cost of cancer is damaging mental health

A new survey has found that 83% of people with cancer say unexpected expenses since their cancer diagnosis are impacting their mental health, with over a third (36%) feeling the impact strongly.

Additionally, 78% of people are struggling to pay bills because of the unexpected costs that come with a diagnosis, with over a quarter (28%) feeling the impact strongly.

These hidden costs of cancer include extra travel to and from medical appointments, the cost of parking near hospitals, bigger heating bills as people recover at home, a change in diet due to eating restrictions or a desire to eat more healthily and additional toiletries to help deal with the side effects of treatment.

84% also admit they were shocked by the extra expenses they incurred following a diagnosis, with a third (33%) saying they were very shocked.

The survey, carried out by OnePoll for cancer support charity Maggie’s, which polled 250 people living with cancer, highlights the soaring costs of living with cancer and the damage to mental health it can cause. The finds have been released one week before the UK government’s budget. Now, the charity is calling on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to take notice.

Maggie’s Chief Executive Dame Laura Lee said: “The soaring cost of living with cancer is shocking enough, but to hear how badly it is impacting mental health makes it even worse.

“First there is the impact of a diagnosis, then the huge unexpected additional costs of cancer which can be around £900 a month. That then takes a toll on mental health leading to increased anxiety and depression.

“These hidden costs have always been there, but they are compounded by the drop in income that usually comes with a diagnosis and the current cost of living crisis.

“Coping with the cost of cancer is far harder today and the government must address that.

“It is unthinkable that someone worrying about cancer is also worrying about putting the heating on, getting to their hospital appointment or buying food.”

Zoe Winters, Benefits Adviser for Maggie’s West London, added: “Unfortunately, cancer is not something anyone plans for financially, and it is not surprising that the hidden costs come as such a shock.

“People are already trying to cope with the cost-of-living crisis on a reduced income following a diagnosis, and then they are faced with the reality of travel costs or an increased food bill.

“It is unbelievably difficult for people to manage.”

Jim and Liz’s Story – Jim uses 16 boxes of tissues a week.

Jim Melvin, 71, from Lanarkshire, uses 16 boxes of tissues and 16 kitchen rolls every week as a result of his oesophageal cancer diagnosis and tracheotomy (an opening surgically created through the neck into the trachea – windpipe – to allow direct access to the breathing tube).

He and his wife Liz say their weekly shopping bill has gone up considerably – possibly even by a third – because of the need to buy items like extra tissues and kitchen rolls to make Jim’s life more comfortable, as well as ice cream to help with the after-effects of radiotherapy.

The couple also spend more money on new clothing to accommodate the fact that Jim now has a tracheotomy to assist his breathing.

This is in addition to unavoidable costs that many people with cancer face, including extra fuel and transport to hospital appointments and additional heating costs.

Liz explains: “The tracheotomy is something that Jim has had to learn to live with.

“It creates lots of saliva secretion, which can be embarrassing as it can come out unexpectedly and this has meant we’ve had to buy quite a lot of new clothes; tops with zips or buttons at the top which fit around the tracheotomy and Jim needs to change his top half a few times throughout the day. This means we have lots of additional laundry costs too. And there’s the additional 16 boxes of tissues and kitchen rolls that we have to buy every week too.”

Jim says: “My throat is often sore, so I eat a lot of ice cream and ice lollies. These are things that no one thinks about but we have to buy three and four boxes of ice lollies every time we go to the supermarket.”

Rachel from Nairn, Scotland is being treated for blood cancer

She said: “Honestly, I’ve spent hundreds on books because long admissions gave me nothing else to do (especially in the pandemic). The best investment I’ve made since getting sick was an iPad purely for watching things and using FaceTime in hospital.”

Mary, from South West London, England, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021

She said: “I was lucky to have discretionary sick pay which meant that I didn’t have to work through my active cancer treatment, but my cancer diagnosis increased my spending significantly.

“I had expected increased costs to do with food and transport. Taxis were a real expense for me. I had to take this on because this was the safest way for me to get to my appointments when I had a weakened immune system. This was to reduce my risk of infection.

“I hadn’t really anticipated increased costs associated with physical changes due to cancer and these were the costs that surprised me the most. This was due to a change in diet which came about when I was having chemotherapy. I also had additional costs because my skin became increasingly dry and sensitive. This meant I had to trial lots of different moisturisers especially when I had treatment induced neuropathy which left me with numbness and burning sensations in my hands and feet. I needed an additional moisturiser to try to get some relief.

“I also couldn’t drink ordinary water because it left a horrid metallic taste in my mouth so I had to opt for other liquids I could tolerate instead like coconut water.

“Cancer in itself is hard and it can impact your finances significantly. To have to trade off your mental and physical wellbeing due to financial worries is a decision that people shouldn’t have to make.”

About Maggie’s

Since Maggie’s opened its first centre in 1996, the charity has developed a programme of support that is proven to help people with cancer, as well as family and friends, take back control.

Maggie’s is there for everyone with cancer, providing practical and psychological support, from the point of diagnosis onwards. Professional staff can help people to manage their feelings when they have cancer, before, during and after treatment. Support includes practical ways of dealing with a diagnosis, emotions and treatment, concerns around self-image, emotions after treatment, advanced cancer, dying and emotions and fear of cancer returning, as well as benefits advice.

To find your nearest centre and for more information please visit www.maggies.org

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