'Stress of money worries was worse than being told that I had cancer'
BREAST cancer survivor Triona Farrell has described the "horrendous" financial strain her family endured after her diagnosis with the disease four years ago.
Triona, from Edenderry, Co Offaly, broke down as she recalled how the stress of money worries was worse than being told she was sick.
She was speaking yesterday at the launch of the Irish Cancer Society's report 'The Real Cost of Cancer', which revealed that patients and their families are facing massive bills of up to €1,200 a month for a range of hidden costs, including doctors' fees, hospital car-parking, travel and home heating.
Triona, who is mother to little Hannah Mae (2), was particularly hard hit because she was a self-employed marketing consultant and, along with her husband John, was heavily dependent on her income to meet household bills.
"For me, the worst part of it all was financial," she said.
She underwent a mastectomy, had four months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy.
"It was physically debilitating and going to work was not an option."
She was afraid she could not afford medication and got a medical card after three months. Triona also went to her local social welfare office but was told that because of the PRSI she paid as a self-employed person she was entitled to nothing.
The memory of her ordeal moved her to tears yesterday.
"I had no hair, was sick from chemotherapy and had a baby in my arms. I had always worked and paid my taxes but was entitled to nothing."
The financial stress was added to by the cost of having to travel to St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin to see doctors.
It got to the point where she could not tax the car and could not drive to the local ARC Cancer Care Support Centre.
Although she had private health insurance, she still had to pay for consultants' fees.
Triona was able to go back to work 20 months later, but still suffers from fatigue.
Speaking at the launch, Alison Grainger, senior medical social worker at St James's Hospital, said some cancer patients were particularly vulnerable, including the self-employed, lone parents and non-nationals.
She backed calls by the Irish Cancer Society to automatically grant a medical card to all cancer patients.
It also asked that the prescription charge for medical card holders - which can amount to €25 a month - be waived for cancer patients to help ease their financial burden.
There should also be more social welfare supports for the self-employed to see them through the stress of the loss of income, it said.