My cancer diagnosis cost me my home

Thousands of people who are fighting against cancer can find themselves dragged into poverty and despair without support

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The Independent Online

Cancer takes a lot of things from you. It can take away your health, your strength, your energy and your hope. One thing I didn't expect it to take from me was my home.

Thousands of people are living with cancer in the UK. While the public are aware of the health implications of a diagnosis, the financial impact can be devastating in a completely different way.

It was around this time last year that my whole world changed. At Christmas I was feeling unwell. At first I thought it was nothing, but then it wouldn't go away. A few months later, my neck and arm both swelled up. I couldn't move my arm because the pain was so bad.

At first doctors thought something was wrong with my tonsils and I went into an operation to remove them. Soon afterwards I was called back into the hospital and told the four shocking words, 'you have throat cancer'.

It's hard to think straight at that point. I was just in shock. All I could think of was my children and how if I died I would be leaving them behind.

When I met with my consultant and talked about my treatment plan, I realised that I was facing a long road. I needed radiotherapy and chemotherapy and I knew that it wouldn't be easy. I didn't realise that keeping afloat financially would be one of my toughest challenges.

A back injury had pulled me out of work before my diagnosis, but there was no way I could work through my treatment. I knew that I would need to look for financial support. That was when I came up against walls of bureaucracy and incompetence which added a new nightmare to my cancer experience.

While I was fighting for my life, I was also fighting against a system which seemed set on making it as difficult as possible to access the financial support I needed. At one stage my benefits were stopped altogether due to a mistake, meaning I had to get my MP involved as my complaints were falling on deaf ears.

At the same time I was struggling with the side effects of radiotherapy which burned my throat so badly that I wasn't able to eat or drink without a feeding tube. The pain was debilitating, and the chemotherapy sapped my energy and strength.

Things got hard quickly. By the time you realise you are falling into the poverty trap, it's already too late and it just drags you down until you are drowning in it - it's suffocating.

I lived in a mortgaged property which had been the family home for many years. Day after day I struggled to keep up with payments.

It just felt like things were getting worse and worse. I was trying to deal with the fact that I had cancer at the same time as I worrying about the horrible prospect of losing my home. It was just too much to handle. Eventually I realised that I would have to move with my kids into council accommodation.

A house is more than a building. It is a home. It's a necessity. Losing the place that you call home is devastating. We lived in a nice place and a nice area, which my children liked, and I had to uproot them and move. It was very hard for all of us.

Throughout all of this I felt like I was being treated like a statistic, just a number, rather than a person dealing with the long-term effects of cancer. As a cancer patient you can often feel forgotten, as if you fall through the cracks between groups. You might not have a permanent disability which means you can never work again, but a patient’s journey with cancer can stretch on far longer than people think.

I have no doubt that there are thousands of cancer patients out there who would love to feel well enough to work, but simply don't have the strength. People don't want to be sick and it's frustrating and immensely isolating.

I was given some much needed advice by Macmillan Cancer Support and that was really helpful, but I know there are more people who need help and who maybe don't know where they can turn.

I'm still putting myself back together. I have lost a lot of weight and people don't recognise me. My target is just getting back to normal and back on track. I am still going through repossession procedures. All the years of working to have a nice home for myself and my family is disappearing in front of my eyes.

I know there are many others like me and it’s clear that more needs to be done to ensure that no-one with cancer has to face their financial worries alone. Politicians and the public have to understand the reality of cancer and the way it affects every part of a person's life, including their ability to work and subsequently pay the bills.

We all know that cancer has a price, but it shouldn't cost anyone their home.