'My life changed overnight': What it's like living with cancer in a cost-of-living crisis

·Political Correspondent, Yahoo News UK
·6 min read
clare macmillan
Clare says she's worried she might have to rehome her dog Princess Poppy, eight, if she can't afford to eat. (Clare)

The cost-of-living crisis is leaving millions of Brits feeling the squeeze amid soaring energy bills, rising inflation, and tax hikes.

But for Clare, the financial hardship began following the return of her cancer in 2019.

The 48-year-old has taken to hiding the thermostat control from her two children, and fears she may have to re-home her dog due to crushing financial pressure.

Clare worked a support officer for adults with learning disabilities.

However, she was left unable to continue in her role when she was diagnosed with tongue, throat and neck cancer in 2016 and underwent dozens of rounds of intense chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

While her cancer is now in remission, she has been left with serious long-term side-effects, and suffers from fibromyalgia - meaning she is unable to work.

"I went from being a support worker, to being supported," she said.

Read more: 'Forget about 80p for bread': Fears Ukraine war will be disastrous for cost of living crisis

Clare, who lives in Grimsby, told Yahoo News UK that she worries about sacrifices she's having to make to get by, including possibly giving up her dog - Princess Poppy, who is eight - if she cannot afford her bills.

"[A] thing I worry about, and I know it's a daft thing to worry about, is will I have to get rid of my dog? To be able to feed myself?" said Clare.

"My dog has been my lifeline, through all of this she's been my one security blanket. Apart from my family, she's been my security blanket - the one that's never answered back, never asked me a question, she's been my constant - and I worry.

"So, you know, is she an expendable expense sort of thing? Well, to me she's not."

Clare says she skips meals, forced to choose between "heating or eating", amid the spiralling cost of living crisis.

Clare's tongue, throat and neck cancer returned in 2016. (Clare)

She says she tries to soften the distress of not being able to afford food by telling herself it will make managing the consequences of her cancer easier.

"You have to choose between eating or heating. I won't eat, because I'd rather be warm - and [it saves me] having that phobia of choking," said Clare, who has been left with swallowing difficulties as a result of her cancer.

Other way of coping, Clare says, is hiding the thermostat control at home in an attempt to keep energy usage down, instead insisting the household put on extra layers.

"I'll be honest. I hide the control... you know, your thermostat," said Clare.

"If I had little kids [it would be different]... I've got big kids that are in control of themselves."

Read more: 'I sold clothes and jewellery to pay my energy bills - there's nothing left to sell'

The pandemic left Clare struggling with her energy bills as she was unable to leave the house, meaning the heating was on all the time.

"I came out with treatment in December of 2019 and was put straight into shielding in March 2020," said Clare.

"So, obviously, I couldn't even go out so my bills rocketed because you're in 24/7.

"It's not like you can nip to someone's house... You were totally in your building all the time... so for the last 18 months, the bills skyrocketed."

clare macmillan
Clare says she hides the thermostat control from family members to try and keep the bills down. (Clare)

Elsewhere, Clare says MP pay rises are hard to watch given the choices regular families are having to make.

On Tuesday, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) announced MPs will receive 2.7% pay rise from 1 April, increasing their pay by £2,212 from £81,932 to £84,144.

"You know, if they want to redeem themselves for whatever they’ve done wrong stop getting the wage increases and put that back into where it is needed and support," said Clare.

"I don’t think you’d see Boris… hiding a thermostat, or living putting an extra pair of socks or an extra cardigan on.

"I don’t think Boris’ little children will go to bed with [extra clothes on] which I think in the deprived areas I live in young mums will be doing.”

Read more: The issue British people are most worried about

Looking forward, Clare says she's living month to month. She also says "it's going to get worse" due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

There is growing concern war in Ukraine will worsen the cost-of-living crisis given Ukraine is the biggest supplier of wheat to the continent, and Russia provides almost 40% of Europe's gas.

"My fear is not coping," said Clare looking to the future.

"My fear is failing. My fear is that I've come through so much to fail on something so simple."

Macmillan’s top tips for how people living with cancer can manage their finances during the cost-of-living crisis:

1. Look into how you can maximise your income through benefits and grant advice - billions of pounds of benefits go unclaimed each year, but remember there are several options open to cancer patients, depending on your health, household, and financial situations.

2. Let your energy and water providers know that your situation could mean your consumption may go up, or your income will go down, if you need to take sick leave. Energy providers all have a “Priority Services Register” that can provide extra protections and adaptions for cancer patients. Some water providers can provide ‘Social Tariffs’ to reduce monthly bills for people on low-incomes, or who have health conditions requiring them to use more water (with cancer patients who are at risk of infection, or have particular cancers such as prostate and bowel, they may need to clean bedding and clothing more frequently)

3. If you’re on a Pre-Payment Metre (PPM) and worried you may run out of credit, contact your energy provider who can possibly add emergency credit to your account.

4. While Macmillan cannot give out direct debt advice, the charity can explain the processes you will have to go through, and signpost you to the best organisations and trust funds to help with this debt.

In response to the impact the cost-of-living crisis is having on people with cancer, Macmillan announced an extra £3.5million in funding for its Financial Grants scheme last week.