Costs of cancer: ‘I wondered could I put diesel in the car, pay for groceries’

Patients per month spend €765 and lose €1500 income due to diagnosis, report finds

 ‘I remember sitting watching the clock going round and wondering if I had enough money to get out of the car park’. Michael Finnegan from Leitrim. Photograph: Andres Poveda

‘I remember sitting watching the clock going round and wondering if I had enough money to get out of the car park’. Michael Finnegan from Leitrim. Photograph: Andres Poveda

 

A cancer survivor from Co Leitrim has said his savings were wiped out in a year while tackling the illness.

Michael Finnegan, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the end of 2015, said financial costs associated with the illness are “an element of having cancer that no one prepares you for”.

Mr Finnegan, who was self-employed as a heritage consultant at the time, had his prostate removed but was unable to return to work for a year.

“I had thought at the time and my doctors had thought I might be able to go back to work after six weeks or two months but I had a few complications and had to have a few more procedures,” he told The Irish Times.

“I wasn’t able to work. That’s where it hit me...I literally went through all my savings in just under a year, it wasn’t huge but it was everything I had.”

Mr Finnegan, whose children were going through college, was able to avail of the illness benefit scheme.

“If I hadn’t of been able to get the illness benefit, I don’t know what I would have done...In terms of getting through that year, it got to the point where I literally wondered could I put diesel in the car, could we pay for the groceries, all these sorts of things,” he added.

Mr Finnegan recalled one visit to University Hospital Galway where he was unsure whether he would be able to pay the parking costs.

“I was there very early to go and see the nurse and then had to go for tests later on so I had to hang around for the day.

“I remember sitting watching the clock going round and wondering if I had enough money to get out of the car park. I was sitting there thinking am I going to have to come back in here to somebody to tell them I can’t get out of the car park. It seems so unnecessary. It’s the very last thing you need.

“It’s not a lot of money to pay to park your car but it is if it’s all the money you’ve got in your pocket.”

Cancer patients are spending an average cost of €765 per month, rising to over €1,000 in some cases, according to a report from the Irish Cancer Society.

The costs relate to medical expenses that can’t be claimed back, costs associated with appointments and increased living expenses.

The Irish Cancer Society’s second Real Cost of Cancer report found that cancer patients are also losing an average of €18,000 a year in income, or over €1,500 per month, as a result of their diagnosis.

The research is based on an online survey involving over 500 patients and carers between May and June 2019.

The average cost of medicines and medical expenses is just over €261 per month. One in ten said they incurred costs from hospital stays, with the average cost €288 per month.

Average costs associated with visiting hospital for appointments or treatment, such as petrol, parking and food was €291 per month.

Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, said “cancer is crippling people financially”.

“At a time where they should be focusing on their health and getting through their cancer treatment, they are worrying about bills stacking up.”

The Irish Cancer Society has made a number of recommendations including reducing the Drug Payment Scheme threshold, abolition of prescription charges for medical card holders and reduced car parking charges for cancer patients at public hospitals.