For some, it begins a financial tailspin that results in debt, distress, bankruptcy and even a lifetime on social assistance.
The study by the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Cancer Action Network says nine out of 10 families that experience a cancer diagnosis have some form of financial hardship.
The study also says it found one in five Canadians has no supplemental health insurance.
There was no one single challenge reported in the study but a combination of factors that led to financial hardship.
Sick time and vacation time gets used up, day-to-day living costs increase and unforseen expenditures come in the form of drugs and medical equipment.
Other major costs include child care, travel expenses and even the high cost of parking of hospital and other treatment centres.
“We heard heart-breaking stories of financial devastation, sometimes affecting three generations in a single family," said Pam King, chairwoman of the cancer care network.
“Some families are pushed so far that they never regain their financial footing, even after they’ve beaten this disease.”
Teresa Solta was a self-employed accountant who owned a successful business when the youngest of her four daughters was diagnosed with cancer of the spinal cord.
As a single mother, she immediately reduced her business activity so she could take care of her daughter full-time.
Two years later she was diagnosed with leukemia and had to stop work all together.
“Within a year’s time, I went from having a thriving business with employees to having to declare bankruptcy,’’ Solta says. “I lost my home. The five of us moved in temporarily with my parents in a two-bedroom apartment."
Mark McDonald, executive director of the Manitoba wing of the Canadian Cancer Society, says this study "gives a voice to cancer patients and their families and highlights the vital role we can all play in bringing about change."
The study calls for actions including improved federal supports for Canadians facing chronic illness and their caregivers; better statutory protections for people at risk of losing their jobs while caring for an ill family member; and improvements to provincial welfare programs so chronically ill people can retain a greater portion of their savings.
It also suggests other provinces follow Manitoba’s lead and provide coverage for all cancer treatment and support drugs.
The study took place over three years.