Within six months of 13-year-old Jessie Robbins’ cancer diagnosis, the Elgin-area family racked up nearly $25,000 in debt.
Jessie’s chemotherapy treatment, tests and surgery meant the Robbins family had to make the three-hour trip into Winnipeg on a regular basis.
In addition to the difficult emotional hurdles in dealing with the cancer diagnosis of their youngest child, Pam and Gary Robbins also had the financial worry.
"Of course your first concern is Jessie," Pam said. "You’re constantly worried. Is it going to work? Are things going to turn out the way you want them to? But then in the back of your mind you’re always thinking, ‘What’s going on at home? What needs to be done that’s not getting done?’"
Gasoline expenses totalled $5,300, parking $900 and overnight stays/meals totalled more than $5,000.
"We were able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House, so that did help with hotel costs," Pam said. "It would have been a phenomenal amount if we would have had to stay at a hotel every time we went."
The family runs a small grain and cattle farm, which was strained during the time of Jessie’s treatment.
"We had to do a little bit of hiring out of places to come in and do some things when we weren’t able to be here," Pam said, adding she had to take a leave of absence from her job as well.
Fortunately, Jessie’s treatment went very well. After six months of chemotherapy, two weeks of intravenous treatment and two weeks of oral treatment, she was cancer free.
"We were going back once a month for a while, and then every three months, then every four months, just to make sure there was nothing coming back, or no secondary cancer showing up," Pam said.
The family went back to the Health Sciences Centre earlier this month for Jessie’s latest check up.
"She is on what they call long-term care, so she has officially gone from a cancer patient, to a cancer survivor," Pam said.
Jessie is now 16 years old, and is a happy, active Grade 11 student at Souris School.
"It was hard, going back to school and seeing everyone healthy, and I was fighting for my life," Jessie recalled, adding now, she’s "back to normal."
She is involved with rugby, basketball, volleyball and is on the student council.
The Robbins’ story is similar to the experiences of people across the country. The Canadian Cancer Society along with the Canadian Cancer Action Network undertook a comprehensive review of research on the financial impact of cancer in Canada.
"For some, a cancer diagnosis begins a financial tailspin that pushes ordinary people over the edge, resulting in debt, distress, bankruptcy and even a lifetime on social assistance," states the study.
Pam said they were helped greatly by the community, who rallied together to raise funds for the family.
After experiencing the challenges first-hand, Pam said she hopes something can be done for others who find themselves in the same situation.
"I think there needs to be some sort of way of applying for reimbursement," she said. "You can do a little bit on your income tax, but sometimes income tax isn’t a true picture of a person’s financial situation. I think there needs to be … a government program or some kind of financial program that you can apply for to recoup some of your expenses that occur when you’re travelling to your nearest treatment centre for the care that you can’t get anywhere else."