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Lisa's story

Lisa looking at papers in an office

Lisa was a full-time human resources manager when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was the primary breadwinner in her household and her husband worked part-time in the community sector. They had two school-aged children and a mortgage. Before cancer, the family was on a comfortable budget.

When she was diagnosed in 2012 and had to stop work, Lisa found she did not have enough sick leave to cover the extensive time off she needed for her treatment. This meant the family’s financial situation changed:

The bit that kept us on a comfortable budget just disappeared.

Lisa had income protection insurance, but the policy had not been updated for ten years. This meant that the amount she received from her insurer was nowhere near her income. This put the family in a situation where they were ‘absolutely struggling’ and had to rely on Lisa’s parents for financial help:

We reached flat broke and that's when my parents financially supported us. I just felt bad having to constantly ask my gorgeous parents for financial help. I thought all their hard-earned savings are going on, you know, our electricity bill. The medical tests, surgeries and reconstruction were very expensive and there, again, my parents covered the outgoings on those things.

Once she finished treatment and tried to return to work to start earning again, Lisa found herself at odds with her workplace on return to work arrangements. At a time when she was still recovering physically, she found that she was having to deal with the stress of a conflict with her employer:

I was absolutely floored to be in a dispute with my employer over how best to return to work. I was keen to get back to work with colleagues and to be earning money again. A big part of getting back to normal is getting back to your job. It felt like I was pulling myself up off the ground after being pummelled by the treatment and then having the boot stuck into me from the workplace.

Lisa sought information about her situation including from the Human Rights Commission. She considered pursuing the workplace dispute issue, but decided that the best thing to do was to look for a new job:

I should have been in a union. As a HR Manager I didn’t think I needed it in what I had thought was a great workplace. I found I needed an advocate to stand up for me when there was so much stuff coming at me through this dispute. While I had some lovely support from colleagues, I didn’t feel supported by my boss or the person filling in for me. It felt like they had moved on and I was out of the picture. I started looking for another job I could do part-time. I took a step down career-wise to ease the burden of applying and starting in a new part-time job in a new organisation while still recovering from breast cancer treatment.

A few years after the end of her treatment, Lisa is back to the role level she was at before her diagnosis, although her salary is not as high as it used to be:

It took two years building up my personal and professional confidence after my return to work dispute. It's a long road back career - wise as well as health-wise. I’m very happy with the roles I’ve had but I'm still earning less than I did in my pre-diagnosis role.

Breast cancer had a huge impact on the finances of Lisa and her family. While they had some financial reserves put aside for a rainy day and were able to draw on family support, they struggled to make ends meet:

The rainy day came. The rain set in and became a tropical monsoon. We simply didn't have enough.