Thu, Mar 25, 2021 12:00 PM GMT
When my husband David was diagnosed with cancer, our whole lives changed.
Time was measured differently, plans were made cautiously and memories cherished deeply. Nothing felt normal and our day-to-day routine was replaced with trips to David's cancer treatment.
When we found out his cancer had become terminal, our lives were once again upended. One of the changes that had a profound impact on David was his loss of income.
David was diagnosed with esophageal cancer on his 50th birthday.
At the time, he was working in Alberta but immediately returned home to Westville, N.S., to begin treatment.
He could no longer work as a carpenter; something that was exceptionally hard for a man like David who prided himself on being able to provide financially for his family.
Through his employer, David was eligible for coverage through the employment insurance (EI) sickness benefit. But the benefit only offers 15 weeks of coverage and David's cancer treatment far exceeded that timeline.
When his benefits ran out, he no longer had income. Other than cancer, the biggest thing on David's mind was how he was going to contribute financially.
While David was going through treatment, our car insurance bill was due and we needed to find the money to pay it. I told him not to worry; we would figure something out.
David ended up laying down a floor to earn the money to pay the bill. He needed to do it for himself, so he felt he could contribute.
He passed away just two months later, on Aug. 4, 2014.
Pre-cancer, David was as resilient as they get. If he got a cold, he never complained. He would push through and get back to work because it gave him passion, pride and a purpose.
But when he got cancer, there was no toughing it out.
If David could have returned to work after 15 weeks, he would have. But he couldn't. He was ready and willing, but not able.
Seven years ago, just before David passed, I made him a promise. I vowed that I would fight to have his life remembered by changing the sickness benefit for those with a critical illness or injury.
After he passed, I started a group called David's Cause. It's focused on honouring David by ensuring families going through cancer don't have to worry about how they're going to pay the bills.
I've become a passionate advocate for this issue because I know many people with cancer face a similar financial strain. Fifteen weeks of financial support through the EI sickness benefit is just not enough, and I believe our government can and should do better.
To put it into perspective, someone caring for a loved one with cancer can receive 26 weeks of paid time off work. Just recently, the Liberal government extended regular EI benefits to 50 weeks. But someone with cancer still only gets 15.
At the time, David was entitled to 45 weeks under regular EI had he been laid off. But because he was collecting the sickness benefit, he could only draw 15 weeks.
The system is undoubtedly flawed when someone is better off being laid off than receiving paid sick leave.
With the help of my local MP, Sean Fraser, and organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society — which has been advocating on this issue for years — we've been able to drive this issue forward.
It led to the Liberal Party committing to an extension of the sickness benefit in their 2019 election platform, and then again in their mandate letters.
But as we know, governments make commitments but don't always follow through. This issue, however, is not one that can slip through the cracks.
No one going through cancer treatment should run out of financial support after just 15 weeks. That's why it's so important that an extension is included in the next federal budget.
It wasn't offered to David when he was going through treatment, but I hope that changes so others never have to experience the same financial hardship.
This is an issue that can't wait any longer. Having that extra paid time off work would have meant a lot to David. I know it would mean a lot to other Canadians like David.