When someone is diagnosed with cancer the last thing that is likely to be on their mind is how they are going to cope financially.
But when their circumstances change and they are faced with the possibility of not being able to work, even for a short period of time, it can be another thing which can add stress to an already stressful situation.
Which is where Anne Foster, our Maggie’s Centre’s financial advisor, comes in.
Anne originally worked with the Department of Work and Pensions and has been with our Maggie’s Centre in Fife since it opened ten years ago.
“I started off working in the Maggie’s Centres in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but the Glasgow sessions became too busy and they appointed a full-time advisor there. At the same time the Fife centre was opening, so now I work between Fife and Edinburgh, offering advice on the benefits which people undergoing cancer treatment and their families are entitled to.”
Anne works in Fife on Thursdays and Fridays and holds a drop-in session on a Thursday from 10.30am-12.30pm when people can just call in without an appointment to speak to her with any questions they may have, or to make an appointment for one-to-one advice.
“Although it may not be the first thing people think about when they have been diagnosed, they often do worry about how they will cope financially.
“They may have to give up their job and sometimes their partners may have to give up their work to help care for them so the family’s financial situation could be drastically changed,” explained Anne.
“A lot of people don’t know I am here and they may come in looking for other practical help and that’s when they find out that Maggie’s has its own benefits adviser. Others are advised to come in to speak to me by their doctor or consultant.
“I am here to talk things through with them and see if there are benefits that they can apply for to help them cope with from a loss of income and housing benefit to additional expenses for things like transport, heating and food expenses.
“I can also advise on things like personal independence payments and carers’ allowances as well as Macmillan grants to help with additional costs.
“If I can help to alleviate some of the stress they are going through by helping them to find out if they can get some extra money to help them cope better then I have done my job. I get a lot of job satisfaction from being able to help them and, even if they find out that they are not entitled to anything, it is another thing ticked off their list and they know exactly where they stand.”
Anne says her workload can vary week on week, and while some people like to come into the centre to have a face to face meeting, others are happy to speak to her over the phone.
“Last week during the two hour drop in session I spoke to eight or nine people, which was a particularly busy one, and other times it can be one or two.
“One of the more recent difficulties we have had to deal with is that most of the forms are starting to go online, such as housing benefit, and not everyone coming to the centre has internet access.
“They can come in and we can fill it in online and I can help keep them right, because some can be quite complicated, and it is helpful that I am also in Edinburgh for the other three days because, if they are having treatment through at the Western, then they can pop in and see me there if it suits them better.”
Gordon has been attending Maggie’s for seven weeks after being told about it by his consultant.
“I came here to have a chat and introduce myself and find out a bit about the programme from Iain the psychologist and he introduced me to Anne.
“We had a chat and when I came along to the men’s meeting and then met Anne again after the meeting.”
At the time Gordon was having problems with correspondence between his consultant and GP over his suitability for work, which took some time to work out.
“Anne was a great help in guiding me through the processs and explaining how it all worked, and I am currently waiting to hear about my Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
‘‘ If I am awarded this then my other benefits will increase.
“With my chemotherapy and steroid treatments my immune system and my taste buds have all been affected and some of the foods I was having before I can’t have any more because they have a completely different taste now, or no taste at all, so I am having to try different foods to see what I can and can’t eat.
‘‘That can cost a lot of money.
“I also need different medications for different side effects and that too costs money, so it all helps if I get more in benefits to help cover the costs.
“I will also be able to put the central heating on for a bit longer when it gets colder without worrying about how I will pay for it, and get someone in to cut my grass because I am not able to do it.”
Anne added: “It is all the little things which people might worry about which I can help with and maybe take away a bit of the extra stress they don’t need when they are having to deal with their cancer and going through treatment.”