A Calgary mother says there needs to be more resources and financial support for families that have children with cancer and she’s calling on the provincial government to do more to help out.
In September, Heather Roy’s daughter Evelyn was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer that stems from the adrenal glands.
Doctors found a softball-sized tumour in the 10-year-old’s abdomen. Evelyn underwent surgery to remove the tumour but unfortunately, the cancer had metastasized to her bone marrow. What followed was several rounds of chemotherapy.
The young girl still requires two bone marrow stem cell transplants, plus additional high-dosage chemotherapy.
At times during Evelyn’s treatment, the chemotherapy would be so intense, Heather decided to quit her job and care for her daughter full-time.
“I’ve had to leave my job to take care of Evelyn,” she said. “Her care is so involved and comprehensive that I need to be there for her.”
With only one source of income, Heather said the family is stretched thin each month. Canadian healthcare covers a lot of the family’s costs associated with the treatment, but Heather said it’s still not enough. There are extra costs associated with the cancer, which include prescriptions, travel and other incidentals.
“As a parent, I love my child so deeply and I hurt for her,” Heather said through tears.
“I hate that she’s going through this, so you just want to give all your energy and all your time and focus to making sure Evelyn gets better. So when we have to go and divert your energy to something else, it’s awful. It’s not a place you want to be.”
According to Kids Cancer Care, there will typically be a 35 per cent increase in extra costs for families when their child is diagnosed with cancer. Almost always, one parent will quit their job.
“The financial cost of having a child diagnosed with cancer really adds to everything — emotional and social stresses that happen,” Kids Cancer Care CEO Christine McIver said. “Whenever a child is diagnosed, almost always one or both parents will have to quit work.
“The challenges are the things that aren’t covered by insurance or anything else. You’ve got a loss of salary, travel costs to get your child to and from the hospital. We’re finding in about 70 per cent of the cases, families have to travel 100 kilometres to a hospital for treatment, so that’s a big cost,” McIver said.
In those instances, Heather wishes more could be done.
“Quite unfortunate from a standpoint of the government that they don’t do more for these families, for our family,” she said.
According to Alberta Health, the province has stepped up to assist families during difficult times.
In a statement, Alberta Health says:
“We do, however, acknowledge the financial and emotional challenges that families live with after a cancer diagnosis. This is part of the reason that the Alberta government made changes to the Labour Code to improve compassionate care leave, so that parents with a sick child can care for their child without worrying about losing their job.”
Heather didn’t apply for that benefit, as she had to quit her job before she was eligible. She said their family has been able to get by with help from charities like Kids Cancer Care and Believe in the Gold. Her friends and family have also helped out financially too with GoFundMe pages and other fundraising campaigns.
“You just want to give all your energy and all your time and focus to making sure Evelyn gets better,” she said.