Normal life goes out the window and household bills pile up

OPINION: Around 200 children are diagnosed with cancer in Ireland each year which has devastating consequences for families. A diagnosis can cause an average hit of €15,300 to annual family incomes on top of other crippling added expenses. In response to the shock findings of new research, Irish Cancer Society CEO Averil Power has announced a major upgrade to its services for struggling families but donations to support vital childhood cancer services and research will also help enormously

THE words ‘your child has cancer’ are the most devastating that a parent can hear. Cancer is distressing at any age but when a child or adolescent is diagnosed with the disease, it throws the world off its axis.

Life is turned upside down and every facet of a normal childhood is impacted: going to school, taking part in activities, playtime with friends and being away from the family home for prolonged periods at a time.

At the launch of the report were Irish Cancer Society CEO Averil Power and Saoírse Ruane (9) who underwent a life-saving amputation of her leg at the age of seven after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
Picture: Andrew Downes

Survival is naturally the most important concern for families but it is the scale of the financial misery layered on top of such a life-changing diagnosis that was the shock finding in a Real Cost of Childhood and Adolescent Cancer report by the Irish Cancer Society which contains survey findings from Core Research of 100 parents and guardians of a child who is currently going through or has recently experienced a childhood cancer diagnosis.

When a child is diagnosed, it is often the case that one parent will have to give up work. On top of obvious expenses like fuel, food, accommodation for parents and expensive hospital car parking charges, there are a range of hidden costs such as childcare, play therapy sessions and higher phone and broadband bills from spending more time away from home.

Families tell us they are simply having to ‘do without’ in a lot of cases as normal life goes out the window and household bills are left to pile up, leaving some in the heartbreaking position of having to raid their life savings, take out additional loans or ask others for financial help.

The Irish Cancer Society already provides a number of services and support for families, including fertility preservation, specialised information on childhood cancers, financial supports, counselling and night nursing to terminally ill children in their own homes, none of which is possible without the generous support we receive from the public.

But these families need more support so they can focus on their child and not have to worry about finances, or navigating their way through complex State supports and welfare entitlements.

That is why we are announcing new and extended supports for families affected by childhood cancer. We are increasing our Children’s Fund grant to €3,000 and making it easier to access so that more families can be supported through treatment.

We are extending our volunteer driver service to children to help with transport costs and we’re making it easier for families to access our support by establishing an Irish Cancer Society nursing presence in Children’s Health Ireland, Crumlin as well as committing a substantial investment in children’s cancer research.

This substantially increased commitment, which is only possible because of generous donations from the public, must be met with action from government. We are calling for lifetime medical cards to be made available to survivors of childhood cancer, as well as the creation of a dedicated grant to cover non-medical expenses for families.