Cancer can greatly affect a family’s finances. One or both parents may need to take unpaid time away from work, which can seriously affect your income. At the same time that family income goes down, spending goes up. You may have to spend more money on things like:
- medicines that are not covered by provincial or private health insurance plans
- travel (gas and parking) to doctor appointments, tests and treatment appointments
- a place for your child and you to stay during treatments away from home
- meals during travel or treatment
- extra child care costs for siblings
- help around the house or yard
- extra phone calls
- special medical equipment
Most centres have social workers specifically assigned to the oncology team. This person on your team can help you with tasks ranging from letting your employer know what is going on to how to access resources and financial help in your community.
Most cancer treatment given in the hospital is covered by provincial and territorial health plans but it can vary by province. Many children also take medicine outside the hospital, such as oral chemotherapy, antibiotics or medicines to control nausea or pain. You may be responsible for paying for those yourself. Some provinces and territories have special drug benefit plans that pay some or all of the cost of medicines your child needs at home. There are also certain drugs that may be covered through special programs through the drug companies or through your child’s doctor or the treatment centre. Ask your healthcare team about which drugs may or may not be covered.
Families may also have to pay for medical equipment or other therapies that are not covered by government health plans. It is a good idea to become familiar with what health coverage and health insurance benefits you have. If you need help paying for medicine that your child takes at home or if your child needs a drug, ask your doctor or social worker for help.
Travel is a big expense, especially if you must travel from a rural area to larger centres for treatment or tests. Some community organizations may offer help with travel. Some airlines may offer discounted flights. You may be able to submit some of these expenses for coverage to various programs but you must have money to pay for this right away and it can sometimes take a long time for you to be reimbursed.
Many families live far from the main centres where children are treated for cancer. The treatment centre may have a Ronald McDonald House nearby that provides low-cost or free housing for children and their families. Treatment centres may also have other short-term housing available nearby or hotels near the treatment centre that offer reduced rates. Talk to your social worker about where to stay when your child is having treatment.
Talk to a social worker at the cancer centre to find out about financial assistance programs and government benefits. They may also have some suggestions about organizations that help out with transportation, accommodation or drug coverage. Social workers can help you apply for financial assistance programs or government benefits.
Review all income programs that might be available to you. Read the rules about who qualifies for each program. Rules are usually based on things like income, assets (what you own and how much money you have saved) and a definition of disability.
Keep your receipts for medicine, travel, parking, meals and lodging in case you need them at a later date. Also keep track of key dates so that you can submit things on time. Some programs have strict deadlines for submitting.
Don’t forget about friends, relatives and other people in the community. It may be difficult to admit financial difficulties, but letting others know what is needed benefits everyone. The people around you want to help and would likely be more than willing to organize fundraisers to help you cover costs during this time. Church groups, school groups or other community organizations often get involved and help with raising money during times of serious illness.
You may see other families at the treatment centre or at a support group. Talk to other families to get ideas on financial support and ask where they found help.
Government programs that may provide financial help
The Government of Canada provides financial support to people who are sick themselves or who are caring for family members who are sick. Income security programs and benefit programs provide monthly payments over a short period of time for people who have to take time away from work to care for family members who are sick. Federal tax credits lower the amount of tax you have to pay each year. There are special forms to fill out when you file your income tax. Most provinces and territories also have special benefit programs to help parents of children who have physical or mental disabilities. The details for these programs change often. Ask a social worker to help you learn more.
Employment Insurance compassionate care benefits are paid to people who have to be away from work temporarily to care for a family member who is gravely ill with a significant risk of death. You must get a medical certificate from a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist. The benefits last for a maximum of 26 weeks. The leave can be shared among caregivers.
The Family Caregiver Benefit for Children allows eligible caregivers to receive up to 35 weeks of financial assistance to provide care or support to a critically ill or injured child. Caregivers must be family members or someone who is considered to be like family to the child needing care or support.
The Child Disability Benefit gives a monthly allowance to families who care for a child under age 18 with “severe and prolonged impairment in physical or mental functions.” Some children who have cancer may qualify even if they are not permanently disabled. Others qualify if they become disabled because of their cancer or because of the cancer treatment. Eligibility for these programs may depend on the family’s income.
The Disability Tax Credit is available for parents who have a child with a “severe or prolonged mental or physical impairment.” A family that qualifies for the Disability Tax Credit may also be eligible for other benefits, such as the Child Disability Benefit and the Registered Disability Savings Plan.
The Family Caregiver Tax Credit is available for someone who is taking care of a sick family member.
The Medical Expense Tax Credit allows you to claim expenses for wigs, medications, medical equipment, tutoring and travel expenses including meals, accommodation and parking. It’s important to keep all your receipts for these expenses to claim them on your income tax. Talk to an accountant or the person who helps you file your taxes if you need more information.
Most provincial governments also have benefit plans that help pay for the cost of transportation and accommodation while you are away from home. Talk to your social worker to see if you qualify for any of these programs.
For more information about benefits and income supports available through the provincial or federal government, go to CanadaBenefits.gc.ca. You can also contact your provincial or territorial Ministry of Health.
Private insurance and employment benefits that may offer help
Many people have private health insurance with their employers or through a private insurance company. These benefits may help to cover or replace your income if you have to take time off work to look after your child and pay for the cost of healthcare and medicine that is not covered by government. They include:
- sick leave – some employers allow parents to take sick leave to care for children
- vacation days
- compassionate care leave – for parents who are caring for a child who is not expected to survive the illness
- extra coverage for private rooms, ambulance, medications, medical devices, therapies and dental care
Find out what benefits you have. Read the extended benefits manual from your insurance provider. Talk to your supervisor or company’s human resources department. Be sure to ask:
- what the insurance will pay for
- what you need to pay for
- how to get the coverage you need
- if there are any waiting periods before coverage starts
Many private plans require you to pay a deductible. This can be very high for some cancer drugs. Some provinces have programs that will pay some of these deductibles, based on your income.
There are lots of organizations, charities and businesses that provide financial support, services and donations to families of children with cancer. You may ask a friend or family member to help you with this. Your social worker may have ideas. Some places to approach include:
- private businesses like gas stations, grocery stores or coffee shops to ask for gift cards
- cancer organizations that offer services and support to people with cancer (some focus on children while others help people with a particular kind of cancer)
- community organizations that provide services at low or no cost
- family foundations or charities that offer financial support, grants for specific services and in-kind donations of items you might need
Fundraising can be done to help with expenses. Your friends or family members can help to carry out fundraising. Friends or family may offer to hold a fundraiser to help pay for your child’s cancer-related expenses. Fundraising can be done by hosting an event, creating an online donation page or by collecting donations in other ways. These efforts can be very helpful, but here are some things to consider about fundraisers:
- How will the money be spent?
- Who will decide how to spend the money?
- How much does my child and my family have to be involved in the fundraiser?
- Consider you and your child’s need for privacy and how much information you want to share.
- Does the money raised have to be declared as income on my income tax return?
- How will this income affect me if I am getting other government benefits?
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.