Cost of part one cancer: How do you deal with the financial fallout during chemotherapy?

Sorting through your personal finances can be difficult at the best of times. But what is it like when you are seriously ill?

In the hopes that this article will help other people facing this problem, journalist Richard Browning explains the journey the healthy vacationer must take when the worst kind of news breaks.

I’m not lucky.

At least, I wasn’t used to it.

It took three years for my bathroom to get properly installed after Wickes sent the worst plumber in the history of the water. It was so bad he was able to blow up the furnace two rooms away.

It took six years for my wife’s teeth to be properly fixed after the dental practice was sold to a large chain of ADP Dental, which employed dentists who were apparently plumber-trained.

A matter of life: My mom has always wanted to visit Yosemite National Park, home to one of America's most famous natural wonders, El Capitan.

A matter of life: My mom has always wanted to visit Yosemite National Park, home to one of America’s most famous natural wonders, El Capitan.

I won a washing machine once in a raffle at Slough Co-op, which was great but I didn’t need a washing machine so I sold it to a friend of my mom’s only to find out the damn thing didn’t work.

As a result, I must make my own luck using a combination of careful planning and a great helping of wisdom. I am very good, for example, at organizing wonderful holidays.

My mom has always wanted to visit Yosemite National Park in California.

She was turning 70 and I thought it would be a great idea to celebrate the trip of a lifetime.

It was April, and I had sorted out Essa, renewed my annual travel insurance and thought little about the paperwork as my attention turned to vacation planning.

Then disaster.

Halifax managed to screw up my isas in a way that only a giant corporation with people who run an issa helpline can do and don’t know what an issa is.

The plumber, it seems, has moved on to banking.

The American Dream: My Mom's in Niagara Falls.  Some of our best vacations were in the USA.

The American Dream: My Mom’s in Niagara Falls. Some of our best vacations were in the USA.

But this was not the case The Disaster, just another dose of bad luck. It would take Halifax over a year, over £100 in phone calls, a dossier full of letters, no help from a time-wasting ‘executive complaints handler’, and insistence on my part to get someone to take notice and sort it out. Chaos.

The thing that happens with big companies is, if there’s a problem, it will — usually — eventually get fixed. Wickes went out of his way to ensure we had a properly functioning bathroom. The dentist fixed the teeth and put money into an account to cover future treatment. My most recent washing machine came with a 10 year warranty.

Halifax, the bank, being useless in banking is not a disaster.

Banks are useless. That’s what they do. They proved this by decimating the global economy in 2007 and had to be bailed out by the UK government to the tune of £125 billion with another £57 billion going to the lending financing programme. The annual NHS budget is a mere £65 billion. Bankers stole our futures contracts. We got it.

No, that was serious.

I called my mom.

was cancer.

No, not my 70-year-old mom. She is as fit as a teenager.

It was me!

“Survival rates… blah… 60:40 blah…” I think the doctor said.

Shaken: Richard fronts cover band Broken Switch.

Shaken: Richard fronts cover band Broken Switch.

I always wondered how I would respond if I was told I had cancer. And now I know.

I’m a journalist and have worked on some horrific stories over the years.

The children who were thrown from high-rise apartments to their deaths by parents who did not receive the care they needed for mental health problems were always the most upsetting.

But aside from that, I thought my skin was thick enough to handle any scenario.

You are not supposed to get cancer in your 40s.

By the end of the year, I was hoping to have two obscure reggae albums in my stash, but instead, around Christmas 2013, I got bowel cancer.

I play guitar and keyboards and sing in a rock band. We are the best in Surrey if you want my totally biased opinion. I have previously performed on stage in the West End, auditioned for the X Factor and performed short stand up comedy routines to a full house of over 300 people. But I never get nervous.

For me, there was no adrenaline rush that I hear so much about.

But when the counselor said the words, “It’s cancer,” followed by something about survival rates, my adrenaline rush finally hit me. Slowly but uncontrollably at first, when I would rise from the groin and then strike, I would get punched in the face and someone would take a sledgehammer to my chest as this new poisonous warmth spread like an overdose of nuclear fallout. No wonder actors get stage fright.

I guess, deep down I expected the worst to be told. But nothing, as I know now, prepares you for this news.

The upside, if there is one, is that once you know the outcome, you can start living — or being a professional cancer patient, at least.

From my experience and from talking to other people who sit on chemo eye drops for hours at a time, you can only get so far.

You are developing your own coping mechanisms while everyone you know is suffering for you.

My first luck was having an amazing family. I never had to worry about taking care of myself if I didn’t want to – my wife, daughter and parents couldn’t do enough.

And I never felt like I was going to lose my job or lose enough of my health that unemployment and benefits were the only option. With an understanding employer, I was able to work from home and go to the office when I could. You have helped more than I can say.

Tired: Richard wonders what the future holds after bowel cancer surgery last year.

Tired: Richard wonders what the future holds after bowel cancer surgery last year.

Another stroke of luck, I suppose, is that I live down the road from possibly some of the best cancer treatment in the world at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton, Surrey.

I’m also very lucky because I don’t mind going to the doctors when my gut mechanisms start to fidget. There was blood when I went to the toilet and got it checked right away. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be writing this.

So maybe after years of bad luck in the consumer world, I was running into my lucky streak, in the world that matters. It’s time to start working on moving this forward.

How well you adjust to life during chemotherapy depends on the people you have to deal with.

One thing is for sure, you don’t get a seat on the train when you have a little bucket of chemo at home hanging from your chest. Although you do get some disgusted looks if the tube accidentally pops out from behind the jumper cap. People are strangers. They hate disability.

I was yelled at by a violent sociopath heading into town for opening a window on the train when I really needed some fresh air. He yelled and slammed as he closed the window.

Refuses to fold a man’s bicycle, is a suburban railroad legend in my neck of the woods. He puts his folding bike on two seats, sits on a third and fills the fourth with his bag, while people undergoing chemotherapy have to stand. He is looking for a fight. Even healthy people cannot deal with such psychopaths.

Fortunately one can ignore such idiots.

At the very least, you can ignore them until you realize they’re not necessarily all bankers heading to town to commit massive heists with impunity all day. Some of them will get jobs in customer services and you’ll likely find yourself on the other end of the phone trying to appeal to a non-existent human side of their personality.

The first thing is to cancel the holiday and claim travel insurance. I only booked the flights for our trip to Yosemite so it shouldn’t have been too hard to arrange. I can’t go, I got cancer! May I have the money back please I may need it for terminal care or another holiday if I get better.

Club Direct Travel Insurance was part of Collinson Goup, which also owns the popular Columbus Direct with 15 million customers in its stable. In addition, the policy is issued and renewed every year by It all looked very big and reputable.

My surgeon advised me not to bother claiming travel insurance right away because you never know what will happen and you don’t want to deal with travel insurance companies. It can be tough.

There was a possibility that I could not claim on insurance, although there were no reasons for this, I could move flights to a later date – so I needed to find out.

Many of the people representing the companies both personally and professionally have been helpful and kind to me and my family during and after my treatment.

My wife got down the phone to the insurance company crying. It was the beginning of a long battle.

Not everyone experiences the brutal side effects of chemotherapy drugs. I did not lose my hair during a six-month course of oxaliplatin and F5U chemotherapy. But aside from hair loss, I felt like I had them all.

Everything suddenly got a little more difficult.


In Part Two of The Cost of Cancer I’ll explain what it’s like to try to get by with life, paperwork, and personal finance in a world where half the people understand and care beautifully while others hate you because you’re suddenly a little crippled.

I’m going to name companies that have been great and ones that need coaching.

Last week I learned that I have now been officially completely cancer-free for six months — save for some persistent side effects that continue to make some tasks challenging.

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