By Wendy Elliott
As a society it seems we don’t care enough for each other.
Recently, many hearts were moved by the plight of a Wolfville man who has terminal cancer and can’t afford the cost of nutritional therapy replacement.
We aren’t accustomed to men in their 40s needing palliative care. Balfour Collins, 44, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer seven years ago and he has been receiving palliative care treatment at home. The liquid food required to keep this father alive costs between $500 and $1,000 a month.
His wife, Seana, went public recently about the need her family faces. She spoke to the provincial media about the rate of cancer in Nova Scotia and how the cost of food supplements needed to maintain life are not covered by the province when a patient wants to die at home.
The Margaret Salsman Cancer Care Memorial Fund has been helping the Collins family. Thank goodness charities like the one Murray Salsman named after his late wife and the Carey Me Foundation exist.
Since 2006, largely by growing gladiolas on his property in Grafton, Murray and friends have raised more than $100,000 to help families of cancer patients dealing with the cost of dying at home. I remember him showing me around Marg’s Glad Garden. He explained how his wife loved to garden and how the gladiolus was her favourite bloom. Murray wanted to raise money for cancer patients and their families coping with financial challenges around treatment. He’s still doing it at 81.
Both the Salsman and Carey families know what the Collins’ are going through. Having the terminally ill cared for at home saves money for our health care system. I’m told that the saving is in the order of a $1,000 a day. So it’s a good thing the health minister is willing to review the issue, which is handled in different ways by Nova Scotia’s different health authorities. Circumstances like the Collins’ certainly help make the case for a single health authority.
Last year the NDP government joined most other provinces to offer expanded catastrophic drug coverage, including to those at home. That was something breast cancer survivor Susanne Winters fought for.
Cancer never comes at a good time, but for the Wolfville resident the timing of her diagnosis in 2010 was particularly difficult. One of a handful of administrative support personnel just laid off from Acadia University, she had lost her medical insurance coverage.
Winters got involved with the Campaign to Control Cancer calling for national catastrophic drug coverage. The word “catastrophic” refers to the financial impact drug costs may have on families or individuals who cannot afford to pay. It refers to the expectation out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs should not exceed five per cent of gross household income.
More than two years later, Winters looks healthy, feels well and wishes she could find another job. Her battle with the system made for positive change. I hope Seana Collins has the same result. Nova Scotia addressed drug reform after some pressure, but it has yet to take a holistic look at all the costs that pile up for families living with cancer.
I would like to thank New Minas resident Shannon Stewart for her faith in human nature. We were both at the Santa Claus parade in the village, when I ran into camera problems.
Wanting to take the photo I had planned, I scouted the crowd looking for someone with a camera. Stewart, who was there with her Relay for Cancer team, had no hesitation in handing me, a stranger, her camera. I think she deserves some kudos.