Suzan C.’s story: the stress of rising medical bills

Suzan C.’s story: the stress of rising medical bills

Cancer not only brings pain, but also the stress of rising medical bills.

Unemployed and not eligible for any type of financial assistance in Quebec

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In 2008, 50-year Suzan, who worked as a waitress in a restaurant, developed a persistent cough and was told that she needed to be followed by medical professionals for a pulmonary nodule. For a 5-year period, she had to undergo a screening every 6 months.

Over the course of this period, Suzan moved to the Gaspésie region with her spouse, who had found a job there. She opened a retail boutique and began looking for a family doctor to take over her medical follow-ups. The wait was long and stressful.

Medical care and the pressure of mounting medical bills

In May 2015, Suzan caught a flu that she was unable to shake off, and was coughing to the point where she broke a rib. She was referred to the Rimouski hospital to undergo new tests. The diagnosis: lung cancer and bone cancer.

The blow was devastating, and the news required that Suzan close her boutique and begin travelling back and forth between the Gaspésie region, Rimouski and Québec City so that professionals could identify and agree on the most appropriate treatment.

“I underwent several scans and bronchoscopies over a period of 2 months, but no one could figure out what treatment I needed. I not only felt forgotten, but since I had no insurance, I was watching my savings melt at an alarming rate. I was exhausted, stressed out, and very worried.”

A few weeks later, Suzan broke her hip as the result of a shattered tumour. She spent numerous months in the hospital, bed-ridden, before undergoing a hip replacement. Totally bereft and unable to work, Suzan had no source of income but was nonetheless saddled with growing medical bills. What’s more, she had to continue chemotherapy and cope with its side effects.

They were now living only on her spouse’s salary, a salary that soon disappeared, as he also developed health problems. The couple’s financial resources then consisted of only their respective disability pensions. Suzan reached out to the Gaspé organization OGPAC (Organisme gaspésien pour les personnes atteintes de cancer) but was devastated to learn that she was not eligible for any of the existing financial support programs offered by various organizations.

“My spouse and I are in a dire financial situation, and now have to sell some of our belongings just to stay afloat. But despite this, we still can’t pay all of our living expenses and medical bills.”

Subsequent to the various treatments Suzan underwent, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy, it was discovered that her teeth had deteriorated and she had necrosis of the jaw. She needed to have all of her teeth pulled, and the dentist suggested getting dentures. Another financial bill to add to the growing pile of health-related expenses she was saddled with.

“The pain is one thing, but the stress regarding our unpaid financial bills is even worse. Not a day or night goes by without my thinking about the situation. Making ends meet with $500 is already challenging, so imagine when additional expenses come up, like $150 worth of medication each month, trips to and from Québec City to undergo therapy, and dental care and services. We’re now selling our personal belongings so that we can buy groceries, pay the rent and settle medical bills. It’s incredibly hard. I’m watching a lifetime’s worth of memories being sold off, with no idea whether the effort will even allow us to survive. And what happens when we have nothing left to sell?”

Financial support is a critical component of the cancer journey

In August 2022, Suzan’s OGPAC case worker contacted her with information on the Quebec Cancer Foundation’s new Support program for daily living activities (PAVQ). Thanks to this last-resort financial assistance for Quebecers with cancer, Suzan was able to receive help from the Foundation to pay some of her dental expenses.

“The process was simple and quick. Two days after I sent in my request, I heard back from the Foundation: the majority of my dental expenses would be paid through the  Support program for daily living activities. I was immensely relieved. Living with cancer is already an indescribable burden, but all the more so when you aren’t financially able to see to your health in the way that you should. I feel as though a load has been lifted, knowing that I no longer need to worry about paying my dentist! I can now reallocate my meager resources to other things that are just as important and essential to my everyday life.”

While still in a tenuous financial situation, Suzan can now rely on her social worker and the Foundation, through its Support program for daily living activities.

Learn more about this program or get in touch with your cancer case worker or social worker.

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