Story

The hidden costs of cancer

Vanessa Percoco, a special education educator and student in special needs education, saw her life abruptly turn upside down when she was diagnosed with advanced colorectal cancer in 2022. She had never been sick until the age of 16, when she learned that she had Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Although she was assured that she was unlikely to develop cancer given her young age, the harsh reality eventually caught up with her when her persistent symptoms eventually led to this diagnosis at the age of 31.
Vanessa Percoco, sitting on the steps and smiling
Vanessa Percoco | © Pierre De Lima

Loss of employment and financial independence

Beyond the emotional and physical tolls brought on by her illness, Vanessa had to contend with unexpected financial obstacles as well. Her family and friends’ support became an invaluable lifeline throughout her treatments. Having only recently entered the job market, Vanessa suddenly found herself unemployed and without insurance, entirely dependent on the financial support of her loved ones.

I was privileged to have financial support from those around me. Without them, I don't know how I would have managed to get through this ordeal.
Having only received 15 weeks of employment insurance during her 2+ years of treatments, she lacked the financial resources to meet this colossal challenge and survive. Unexpected expenses such as medications, a digestive ostomy, healthcare, and lifestyle adjustments led to a far greater financial burden than she ever could have imagined. Without good insurance, she was forced to make hard choices, sometimes sacrificing her own care to pay the rent or put food on the table.

“There were months when I wondered how I was going to pay the rent. The end of every month was a source of stress because I knew I’d have to call my dad and ask him for the money I was short. At 33, I was still dependent on my parents.”

An unexpected financial burden

Like most people, Vanessa had never anticipated having to pay so much money out-of-pocket when she was diagnosed with cancer. For instance, in 2023, she paid over $4,000 in prescription drug bills. She also accumulated major expenses related to her digestive ostomy, including having to get new ostomy bags every four days, physiotherapy sessions, osteopathic consultations, and visits to a nutritionist. 

It was a huge financial load to carry. I often wished that government officials could understand what I was going through and put themselves in my shoes. It happened to me, but I know there are many others in my situation.

Join us in calling for change

Vanessa continues to persevere and is working hard to rebuild her professional and personal life. On this World Cancer Day, please join us in urging governments across Canada to make cancer care more affordable for the dignity of those with this disease. To be part of this collective effort, sign the letter that will be hand-delivered to the federal Minister of Health to show that there is an entire community out there that does care about those living with cancer and expects better for them. Visit cancer.ca/costofcancer and join us in calling for change.