Edinburgh dad and cancer survivor says financial impact is 'catastrophic' as patients hit by cost of living
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Rhys Nealon, 43, a dad from Duddingston, was diagnosed with Metastatic Melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer, in 2019. While his immediate concern was his prognosis, he quickly gained another worry – his finances.
When Rhys was first diagnosed, he was self-employed and chose to continue working – partly as it distracted him from his health worries, but also because he needed to financially provide for himself and his two daughters. However, after a few months, he quickly realised he couldn’t continue full-time work. "I was going to hospital all the time”, he said. “The stress of trying to juggle that with work just wasn’t compatible”.
Rhys was not alone in this struggle. A recent study on the hidden cost of cancer, commissioned by insurer Zurich, found that over half of UK cancer patients surveyed were forced to change their employment due to their diagnosis, with 3 in 10 reducing their hours and 1 in 4 pausing work altogether.
While the dad-of-two did a small amount of consulting work to make ends meet, he mostly relied on his savings. Without this money, he believes he would have ended up relying on benefits. For many cancer patients, this is a reality. The study also found that 40 per cent of those surveyed did not have a savings net, while 25 per cent said they would not be able to financially sustain themselves for longer than 12 months with no income.
Rhys was also going through a divorce while his treatment was ongoing. “It was a tough time”, he said. “The financial impact was massive”. When he was in the depths of treatment, Rhys’ two daughter were only two and six.
While he was worried about what would happen to them if he didn’t survive, they also gave Rhys strength. He said: "They made me want to fight my hardest to get through it, because I wanted to be there for them and remain in this world as their father”.
After several courses of immunotherapy, Rhys was forced to stop treatment, after he developed life-threatening side-effects. However, luckily his body has been successful at fighting off the cancer, and he has seen no tumour growth since stopping treatment in August 2020. Since, he has been able to restart full-time work as a web designer, which has helped him financially recover. He was even able to buy a house recently.
However, Rhys fears not everyone is as lucky as him. He said: "The result that cancer has on your finances can be pretty catastrophic. It doesn’t just impact your heath, but everything else”. He added: “People are always going through tough times - whether it's divorce, unemployment or cost of living - and cancer doesn't remove those things from your life.”
Since recovering, Rhys has recently taken part in a photography exhibition, featuring images captured by people living with cancer or who are in remission, and is also doing his bit to prepare people for the hidden cost of cancer. "One in two of us are going to get cancer in our lifetime. We need to start planning for that”, he said.