By Mike Pearson, News staff
When Lucy Santoro was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2009, the fear and uncertainty became paralyzing.
“It was my worst nightmare realized,” said Santoro, a Stoney Creek resident.
But along with the physical stress of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, the financial stress took its toll as well.
Santoro, who was living in Toronto at the time, was planning to launch her own business providing complementary therapies like reiki and alternative healing methodologies.
Those plans were put on hold and Santoro was faced with a multitude of out-of-pocket costs like medications, hospital parking and naturopathic doctor fees, all without the benefit of a steady income.
At that time, there were few programs in the Golden Horseshoe area offering free financial advice for cancer patients. Santoro persevered thanks to her strong family support system, but knows others may not be as lucky.
Today the Wellspring Cancer Support Network is helping to manage the financial gap through the Genworth Canada Money Matters Resource Centre in Oakville.
The program provides professional case management and information on income replacement programs and drug coverage options to help cancer patients manage the financial pressure. Clients may consult with a Money Matters case manager for a confidential, one-on-one appointment to review personal information and discuss specific concerns.
Many government income replacement programs are available, but accessing benefits can be tricky.
“We basically navigate through the maze of income replacement programs and create a plan for each person,” said Pamela Bowes, Wellspring’s program development manager.
Money Matters is one of 40 diverse cancer support programs offered at Wellspring, which includes centres in Toronto, Oakville, Brampton, London and Thorold. Programs are offered free to cancer patients, loved ones and caregivers and no medical referral is required.
Along with Employment Insurance sick benefits, applicants may seek Canada Pension Plan disability benefits, Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Plan benefits. Wellspring can also assist patients who may have workplace benefits such as short-term and long-term disability benefits.
All government programs have eligibility criteria and acceptance is never guaranteed. For example, Bowes estimates only 55 per cent of applicants are approved for Canada Pension Plan disability benefits. Applicants may be turned down because they haven’t contributed enough, or may not meet the government’s definition of disabled.
“There are lots of provisions and things that might exclude people from being eligible,” said Bowes. “That’s where our legal clinic has helped people. Our job with Money Matters is to get people to meet with the right professionals and ensure that their application is in.”
Along with its professional case managers, Wellspring offers a free financial advice clinic, with the assistance of volunteerCertified Financial Planners. A CFP can show patients how to best utilize their assets during cancer treatment.
Wellspring’s employment law and long-term disability legal clinic is the only legal clinic of its kind in Canada, specifically for cancer patients.
“We have lawyers who volunteer their time pro-bono who are specialists in employment and disability law,” said Bowes.
An employment lawyer can discuss things such as return-to-work plans and whether you should disclose your physical limitations during a job interview.
Developed in partnership with Pro Bono Law Ontario, the legal clinic services are offered at Wellspring’s offices in Downtown Toronto and Oakville.
Recognizing that Toronto and Oakville can be a bit of a trek for Hamilton residents, Bowes has also conducted professional training sessions for professionals working directly with cancer patients in Hamilton, including the Juravinski Cancer Centre, where Santoro received her cancer treatment.
Santoro was introduced to Wellspring while attending a Look Good, Feel Better workshop and the Cancer Exercise program at Wellspring’s Birmingham Gilgan House. From there, she enrolled in numerous programs. Her favourite was the Healing Journey, a multi-week course for spiritual healing.
While Money Matters didn’t exist at that time, Santoro took part in a discussion series on tax preparation offered by chartered accountants. The sessions included information on how to claim medications on a tax return, how to record supplemental income through other sources, as well as claiming hospital parking and travel expenses.
Today Santoro has realized her dream of starting her own business. She’s partnered with her sister to open a complementary therapies clinic, which includes reiki, reflexology, and support for the cancer community.
Santoro has been declared cancer-free and continues her involvement with Wellspring as a volunteer. She spends a lot of time in the kitchen assisting Wellspring’s Nourish program, but also helps with the Healing Journey, a program designed to relieve the emotional stress of a cancer diagnosis.
“It really helps to alleviate some of the emotions and stages of cancer that aren’t medical: the anger, the grief, the changes in your lifestyle, even the relationships that are impacted.It was a wonderful resource to go through that healing,” said Santoro.
Most importantly, Wellspring’s programs made Santoro feel comfortable and accepted.
“I found a place where I could be who I was in that moment,” she said. “In that moment, I was Lucy with cancer. There, I was understood. I could share my thoughts and my feelings and people could relate.”
Money Matters is available at The Genworth Canada Money Matters Resource Centre at Wellspring’s Birmingham Gilgan House.
Cancer patients are welcome to book an appointment by calling 905-257-1988. The Genworth Canada Money Matters Resource Centre and Money Matters case managers can also provide information on options for drug coverage, community services to assist cancer patients and a Wills clinic. The Money Matters Resource Centre at Wellspring Birmingham Gilgan House has been supported in part by grants from: Faas Foundation, The R. Howard Webster Foundation, RBC Foundation, Mississauga Community Foundation and Halton Region.