Cancer patient says choosing between heating and eating 'horrendous' as energy costs soar

Susan McNaughton speaks to ITV News Central about the financial impacts of cancer and the rising cost of living

A Birmingham woman, who is undergoing cancer treatment, says she is struggling to afford the cost of living as energy prices soar.

Susan McNaughton has Myeloma - a type of bone marrow cancer.

Her diagnosis came in 2017 just after her husband had finished treatment for Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, another form of cancer.

Susan tells how during her husband’s treatment he couldn't work and they spent all of their savings, so her diagnosis felt like an even bigger blow.

The 54-year-old had to have intensive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant which left her immune system severely compromised, meaning she had to stop work completely.

Susan's treatment is still ongoing and her husband takes time off work to care for her, she

says the reduced income means it's not uncommon for them to have to choose between heating or groceries.

"It's horrendous when you have to choose between heating your house or eating or any of that, it's just a horrendous place to be and it's really hard to reach out to try and get help", Susan told ITV News Central.

"I think there needs to be more help available for people".

The couple reached out to Help Harry Help Others, a Birmingham and Solihull based charity offering financial and emotional support for cancer patients.

But as the cost of living continues to increase Susan says, even with the charity's fantastic help, the financial concern doesn't go away.

"It's always going to be a worry" she says, "we've always got this little black line on our heat and we try to stay in the line."

"I think when you're ill you shouldn't have to be cold and damp, it's just not right."

Susan was among people ITV News Central spoke to as we investigated how the cost of living crisis is affecting people in cancer treatment.

The unseen costs of a crippling diagnosis

Having cancer is not only emotionally and physically draining, it can be financially draining too.

Treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy impact the immune system, meaning most cancer patients miss out on work during their treatment.

Not only that, being warm becomes more important as it can aid recovery, meaning heating bills go up.

Travelling to hospital or to the GP becomes more frequent, so fuel bills increase too.

It's just some of the additional costs that come with an already crippling diagnosis - and as the cost of living increases, so does the pressure on these patients.

"If I don't go to work I can't afford the bills"

Claire Parker from Coalville in Leicestershire is a single working parent.

She says her cancer diagnosis in September last year brought financial strain.

Claire explains how despite being advised not to work she's still going to work full time, as her sick pay wouldn't be enough to support her and her 13-year-old son.

A situation only made worse by the cost of living crisis.

"It's really hard" says Claire, "going through chemo you feel the cold so much more and with the costs rising it's really putting the pressure on."

Claire says when she has treatment she's forced to take time off as holiday - but going through chemotherapy is certainly no vacation.

The recommended recovery time after Claire's first operation was eight weeks, she says she only took half of that as she couldn't afford to take two months leave.

"Hopefully when all my treatment is over I'd like to go on holiday but am I going to have any holidays left to be able to take the time off work?" says Claire. "It's just extra stress all the time."

"If I don't go to work I can't afford the bills" explains Claire.

"There's no help out there until you're struggling" she says, "but you don't want to put yourself in the situation where you are struggling to get the help"

"It's just a vicious circle" she adds.

Help Harry Help Others is a Birmingham based charity that was founded by schoolboy Harry Moseley. Credit: ITV News Central

Where can I get help if I'm struggling?

  • The charity Macmillan Cancer Support recently revealed that its given out more than £1 million in grants over the past three months to patients dreading their next energy payment.

  • Help Harry Help Others is a Birmingham based charity set up by schoolboy Harry Moseley. Harry sadly died from brain cancer in 2011 but his mum, Georgie has continued his campaign to help others who have been diagnosed with cancer.

"I was exhausted but I was more worried about money than my recovery, which is sad but the truth"

Wendy Adams from Nottingham found a lump a day before her birthday in November 2018, she was diagnosed with cancer the following month on Christmas eve.

Wendy recalls the worry she felt around her finances and her mental health following her diagnosis.

"I’ve always worked, all my life" says Wendy, "I’ve never really had any sickness, and I wanted to have the distraction work would give me."

Wendy worked for the first six months of her treatment and says she didn't want to "face the reality" of having to take sick pay.

Eventually, in June 2019, she was forced to take time off to recover.

"I am a single mum, I have 2 daughters and I was constantly worried about money", says Wendy.

She says she was constantly cold so the heating was on more and her fuel bills rocketed due to frequent trips to Nottingham City Hospital for treatments, blood tests and consultations.

"During my Chemotherapy my boiler broke" adds Wendy. "I wasn't entitled to any money to get it fixed as I was being paid by work, so my friends mum had to give me the money to get a new boiler."

Wendy was off work for more than six months in total which meant her pay was reduced.

She says she knew she wouldn't be able to pay the bills and went back to work just four days after her treatment had finished.

Wendy went back to work just four days after her treatment finished. Credit: Wendy Adams

"I was exhausted but I was more worried about money than my recovery, which is sad but the truth."

Wendy is now two years cancer free, but she says the illness has a lasting effect.

"I am constantly cold and find I need the heating on more and the cost of energy prices is frightening", she says. "I have a smart meter and I find that I'm obsessed with it and I sit with blankets over me rather than put the heating on."