Financial hardship of cancer in Canada: a call for action

Nine out of ten Canadian families touched by cancer report some form of financial challenge as incomes decline and household costs rise. For some, a cancer diagnosis begins a financial tailspin that pushes ordinary people over the edge resulting in debt, distress, bankruptcy and even a lifetime on social assistance.

The Canadian Cancer Society, in partnership with the Canadian Cancer Action Network (CCAN) undertook a comprehensive review of research on the financial impact of a chronic illness and then completed interviews with health care professionals, frontline workers as well as cancer patients, caregivers and their families to compare the research findings with the Manitoba experience.

Read the full media release

Watch video synopsis in English

Video synopsis in French 

What emerged was a consistent picture of financial hardship caused not by a single challenge but rather a combination of factors that created a perfect storm as sick time and vacation time was used up and costs increased because of day-to-day living costs and unforeseen expenses from drugs and medical equipment to child care and travel increased. Surprisingly, parking costs at treatment facilities were more than a minor irritant, they were a major expense.

Read the full report in English
Read the full report in French
Read the supporting literature review
Read the supporting key informant interviews

  • Personal stories

    Throughout the interview process, the Cancer Society was touched by the courage of individuals to share their experiences that gave life to research findings. Here are four of the stories:

    Pam King on the financial hardship of cancer
    Pam King will never forget the desperation of a woman new to Manitoba who was forced to live in her husband’s hospital room and eat off his plate as he underwent cancer treatments because they had no one to turn to and no money to live. As the head of CCAN in Manitoba, Pam has worked as a nurse in rural Manitoba and is a cancer survivor herself. She believes change is possible and that we all need to play a part.

    Teresa Solta: Cancer took her business and her home but not her determination
    Within a year of her youngest daughter’s spinal cord cancer diagnosis, Teresa Solta went from being a successful business owner to a full-time care giver with four children and very little income. One year later, the Winnipeg accountant was diagnosed with leukemia and had to stop work all together. In the months that followed, she declared bankruptcy and lost her home. Today she’s working for change so other Manitobans don’t face the same challenges she did.

    Vanessa Kunderman helps Manitobans reduce financial risk
    Having lost her father to melanoma and facing a cancer diagnosis herself, Vanessa Kunderman now advises Manitobans on strategies to reduce their financial risk including when they face a chronic illness.

    Pam Robbins: Distance should not be a financial barrier
    Running a mixed farm with her husband in southwest Manitoba for most of her life, Pam never thought she’s spend so much time in the city. Within six months of her daughter Jessie’s diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the Robbins’ racked up nearly $25,000 in debts while travelling to Winnipeg and Brandon for multiple tests, surgery and chemotherapy. Gasoline expenses totalled $5,300, parking $900 and 24 overnight stays with meals totalled $5,500. Then there was the cost of hiring people to help with harvest…

  • Add your voice

    Do you have a story to tell? The Canadian Cancer Society wants to hear from you and understand the challenges that you’ve faced. Click here to write us (generate email to advocacy@mb.cancer.ca) and give a voice to others facing similar financial challenges. Please include your contact information.