Georgie had been in her job for four months when she was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to the lymph nodes under her armpit in October 2015. She initially thought about the financial cost of breast cancer before anything else:
The first thing I actually said to my doctor when he told me that I had breast cancer was ‘I can't afford to do this, I've just started a new job, I'm going end up in the street.’ Even before I started thinking about, ‘oh hell, I've got breast cancer,’ my first thought was actually, ‘oh my God, I've got no money.’ There was not one day that I wasn't stressing about money.
Before her diagnosis, Georgie was in a stable financial position. She was rebuilding her savings after a short period out of the workforce and had some money put aside in the bank. She was single and in the process of owning her own home. Georgie loved to travel and was planning ahead for future trips, but these plans changed when Georgie was diagnosed. Her financial position became very difficult.
The superannuation fund that Georgie used stopped providing automatic income protection and she had not yet arranged a replacement policy when she was diagnosed. As she had only been in her role a short time, Georgie did not have much sick leave available to her. Her colleagues donated a total of six weeks of sick leave to her, which Georgie was extremely grateful for. Their act of generosity allowed her to have some extra paid leave while having cancer treatment. Unfortunately, this still was not enough to cover all of her treatment.
Because she could not work, Georgie had to apply for Centrelink sickness benefits. She was shocked to discover these benefits were significantly less than other safety net payments like the aged and disability pensions. It was not enough for her to live on:
It made me feel even worse because it felt like I was being penalised for having cancer. When people are unable to work because they're unwell, it is more likely than not that there will be an extra cost burden rather than a lesser cost burden associated with that because there'll be medications and treatments. And it just adds insult to injury to only have that [benefit] paid at $250 a week. I tried - you can't live on that.
Georgie points out that discounts offered to other groups of welfare recipients, such as for council rates and animal registration, are not offered to people receiving sickness benefits.
She also found that things that would have made her feel better physically and emotionally during her treatment – exercising at the gym, going for a coffee, visiting the osteopath or going out for dinner with friends – cost more than she could afford. At times she felt very low about her situation:
I no longer feel quite as bleak but at one stage there I was just going ‘I may as well have died on the operating table because if this is the rest of my life I don't want it’. I was at the bottom of the big black hole.
Georgie sought advice from a financial advisor who she found through BCNA, and he helped her with managing her finances:
The financial advisor helped me with the bank and he helped me with Centrelink as well. And that was just fantastic because I was in no fit state to do any of it. He just went above and beyond.
Georgie’s employer supported her through her illness, which she’s grateful for:
Just knowing that I had somewhere to come back to was so important. My employer has been really fantastic and I can't imagine how much harder it would be for women when they don't have the support of their employer.
Friends were a great source of emotional and financial support for Georgie too. One friend bought Georgie a wig as she was finding it difficult to deal with losing her hair as a result of her chemotherapy treatment:
A girlfriend paid for a wig for me, which was really lovely. I wouldn't have been able to get through it without a wig. Bald woman equals cancer. When my hair fell out, it was the first time I really had to acknowledge to myself and the rest of the world that I had cancer, so the wig was really important. It let me pretend I was normal.
Other friends gave Georgie grocery vouchers, paid for appointments and paid her utility bills and her rates. Learning to accept help was difficult as she had always been very independent:
I've lived the whole of my life not relying on other people. Having to ask just made me feel really awful. I think I've become better at asking for and accepting help graciously and not feeling embarrassed about it. Most people are really kind. Stop feeling guilty about it and let them help because it feels good for them and it should feel good for you as well. It’s not charity, it's about people wanting to show their care and concern.
Georgie has now returned to full time work and is starting to get back to where she was before cancer. The lingering worry about money was with her through her cancer journey, and was as significant for her as her worries about her health:
The cancer treatment burden of feeling crap was sitting on one shoulder and the, ‘oh, my God, I've got no money, what am I going to do’ burden was sitting on the other one. It just became this pervasive horrible thing that never went away.