Self-Employed with Cancer: What You Need to Know (Part 2)

Click here to read: Self-Employed with Cancer Part 1

One of the most stressful elements of a cancer diagnosis is the financial impact that it can have on your in the short-term and long-term. If you are lucky enough to have a good health benefits plan, often times you can claim disability insurance through treatment and beyond. However, for those who are self-employed the collateral damage of a cancer diagnosis financially and professionally is devastating. We interviewed lighting designer and Rethinker Lesley in a two part series to get her take on coping with cancer and surviving self-employment.

What are some resources for women who are self-employed?:

Financial Support Possibilities:
  • Coping With Your Financial Concerns When You Have Breast Cancer (all provinces), created by Willow Breast and Hereditary Cancer Support, the only comprehensive resource, customized for each province, to help people navigate the financial difficulties associated with breast cancer.
  • The Trillium Drug Program, Ontario (1 800 575 5385)/ This program helps people who have high prescription drug costs relative to their household income. The Trillium Drug Program is for people who spend approximately three to four percent or more of their after-tax household income on prescription-drug costs. To be eligible you must: have a valid Ontario Health card, and either not have enough private insurance coverage for your cancer drugs; or have insurance, but it does not cover 100% of your cancer drug costs, or you have exceeded your annual or lifetime maximum amount allowed by your private insurance plan. Contact the above phone number/website for eligibility and applications.
If you live outside Ontario please check for comparable assistance in your home province.
  • Canadian Cancer Society/ Access the website; click on Support and Services; click on Financial Help; select your province
  • Employment Insurance special benefits for self-employed people/ Under the Employment Insurance Act, self-employed Canadians are able to apply for EI special benefits if they are registered for access to the EI program. There are 6 types of EI special benefits – Sickness benefits are for people who cannot work due to injury, illness, or the need to be isolated in quarantine because they may be carrying a disease (up to 15 weeks). Access Revenue Canada website and search for Employment Insurance special benefits for self-employed people.
  • Money Matters Program: A free counselling program through Wellspring to discuss all of your financial concerns.

What have you learned about yourself through this process?

When you go through a life altering illness which affects every aspect of your life – it is amazing to see how your body, mind and spirit can recover and move forward. I made a decision when I was going through chemotherapy that I would climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Everest and raise money for Breast Cancer research so that future generations of women may be free of this disease. The physical and mental focus needed to climb at altitude mirrored my journey from breast cancer diagnosis through to recovery. I have learnt that anything is possible if you put your mind to it!

I also learned to live in the moment and not dwell in the past or the future. I am not always successful at accomplishing this, but I try to put it at the front of my thoughts at the beginning of each day through meditation. When I finished my treatments for breast cancer the concept of ‘living in the moment’ seemed so fitting for the experience. I try to remember today what that discovery felt like and that helps me to take things one day at a time.

Where are you now? Have you recovered from the financial stress of a breast cancer diagnosis?

I would say that I still have not fully recovered from the financial challenges of a breast cancer diagnosis. I was in my 40s when I was diagnosed and at the height of my career as a Lighting Designer. With the diagnosis I had to pull out of productions and although financially I needed to work between chemotherapy and radiation, my career and income never fully recovered from the time away. I am still paying back the RRSP’s I cashed in to buy my condominium 14 years after my recovery. Despite these challenges I feel grateful for my health, for the great treatment I received through Princess Margaret Hospital and their partners, and for the continued support from my family and close friends.

Two added comments…

Put your health first. Without your health you have nothing!

In 2004 I put my business before my health. I was working on the east coast for three months. In my first month in Halifax I discovered a lump on my right breast. My instincts told me that it was cancerous. I had a mammogram scheduled in April at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. I made a conscious decision to complete the three contracts in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and collect the full fees on each contract – and to deal with my health when I returned to Toronto in early April.

Before you start treatment talk to the team of doctors about long term side effects.

12 years after my treatment was completed it looked like I started to experience the long-term effects of strong chemotherapy treatments. For the past two years I have felt pins and needles throughout my body for many hours of each day. I have undergone a battery of tests – all which have come back negative. Although there is no definitive answer, the specialists believe that the pins and needles are caused by the two types of chemotherapy I was administered. The knowledge of these side effects would not have altered the treatment that I chose but it would have helped me if the team had discussed the possible long-term side effects with me.

Lesley is a Theatre, Opera and Industrial Lighting Designer. She is currently working on launching a graduate level theatre design school in Toronto called ‘Design Incubator.’

Click here to read: Self-Employed with Cancer Part 1

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