Christie was diagnosed with early breast cancer in 2011 at the age of 34. She was living in the regional Victorian town of Sale with her husband and their three young children, enjoying a busy family life. Christie recovered from her first bout of cancer treatment, and the family were back in a comfortable financial position when her cancer returned. Living with metastatic breast cancer has presented Christie and her family with different financial challenges than her earlier breast cancer, because of the unpredictability of metastatic disease:
The instability of not knowing is probably the biggest thing which then leads to the anxiety and the stress.
Before her first cancer diagnosis in 2011, Christie and her husband were in a comfortable financial position. They were both working – Christie part-time, her husband full-time – and were in the process of owning their first home. Now that she is living with metastatic breast cancer, Christie is unable to work because of treatments. She misses work:
I’d love to be working still but can’t because of treatment.
Claiming her superannuation through total and permanent disability is an option for Christie, but she is not willing to choose this course of action just yet. She knows that her superannuation is there as a ‘backup plan’:
I looked into accessing my superannuation when I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. I haven’t actually formally finished my paperwork because it’s been put to the backburner. I figured whilst I’m not desperately needing it right now and I can hold off a little bit longer we’re just keeping it there as a bit of a – I guess a bit of a backup plan.
Early on in her metastatic disease, Christie was involved in a clinical trial at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, about 250km from Sale. Being involved in this trial meant that a lot of her costs were covered while she was in Melbourne for treatment. When she receives treatment in Sale, Christie finds that she pays for things she would not have to pay for in Melbourne. This variability in costs depending on where she receives her treatments and tests makes planning for expenses difficult:
It’s a 250-odd kilometre trip to Melbourne and accommodation. Being with the trial wasn’t so bad as there weren't too many extended medical costs, but coming back home there are more medical costs involved. Perfect example of that is I tend to go back to Peter Mac for things like CTs and bone scans and bits and pieces for continuity, but also, I don’t pay for scans if I go to Peter Mac, whereas if I have them here at home that costs me out-of-pocket about $660. So yeah, if I were to have a scan urgently here it puts a bit of a dint on the budget for the month.
The combination of the uncertainty of metastatic cancer and living in a regional area adds to the financial stress and worry for Christie and her family. While they are in a stable financial position and are good at saving and budgeting, having to absorb unanticipated costs when Christie needs to be in Melbourne for treatment that is not available in Sale is hard. This has an emotional impact on Christie:
And re-juggling things that are priority when you have that extended bill or hospital stay when I’m away from home -it’s the anxiety that it creates, that it changes our regular monthly routine. The emotional burden for me is probably worse than my husband ‘cause he’s the type that just goes ‘it’s okay, we’ll make do, don’t panic too much about it, it’s not worth the stress’ whereas I go ‘oh but we’ve got to get this done this month’ and ‘oh but I’ve got to worry about this’. So then for me it rolls onto other emotional impacts as well as just that financial impact.
Their support network of family and friends look after the children when Christie is receiving treatment, which is something that is a big help. Christie’s health is the number one priority for her and her family, and they will do whatever they need to do to make sure Christie gets the treatment she needs, despite the additional inconvenience and costs of relocating for that treatment:
Relocating to Melbourne weekly for treatment was such a burden. And when my oncologist here said to me ‘oh there might be another trial that you can actually go on at Melbourne, I want to refer you back’, it actually makes me feel really sick to be going back to do that but my husband again just goes ‘we’ll make do, don’t worry about it, we’ll just go where we need to go for treatment. And do what we need to do for treatment.’