A Nova Scotia family says the financial cut-off for a program that helps poor Nova Scotians fight cancer needs to be raised.

The provincially run Boarding, Transportation and Ostomy program (BTO) helps cancer patients pay for travel, lodging and ostomy supplies during treatments. The family must earn less than $15,720 a year. The rate was set in 1994.

Living with cancer: 

  • More than 6,100 Nova Scotians are diagnosed with cancer each year. 
  • 91 per cent will experience significant financial hardship as a result.
  • 43 per cent of Nova Scotians live in rural areas and must travel to Halifax or Sydney for treatment.

- Source: The Canadian Cancer Society

Maynard Simpson was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in January. He and his wife Susan Taylor were initially told they qualified for BTO. 

But the couple make $238 more than that and so were refused assistance.

The couple, along with the Canadian Cancer Society, say it needs to be raised.

"Who can live off $15,720 a year, let alone have to put out some pretty serious money for a pretty serious issue?" Taylor asked.

"Do you put out the money and save your life, or do you put your family in financial ruin and die? Some people have made those decisions."

She said it added to the stress and difficulty of treating cancer.

"At times it feels like I've been to hell and back," Taylor said. "$238 over and we were refused."

Simpson said it made a bad situation even worse. "I never even heard tell of this," he said. "Until you get sick, then you're in pretty rough shape to help."

The family suggests a $25,000 threshold for the program.

'It's really hard'

Alyson Currie is a social worker. She often has to tell cancer patients they're not covered by the program.

"When someone first finds out they don't qualify for the BTO program, usually there's tears,” she said.

"[It's] this feeling that I need something and it's not here for me. It's difficult. It's really hard for people and I think there's a bit of anger and frustration with that."

She said the limit should be raised to reflect 2013 rates. 

Simpson and Taylor stayed at The Lodge That Gives in Halifax, one a few places in the city that provides a place to stay as well as meals for cancer patients and their loved ones.

The couple say it was a big help. 

Election issue

Taylor pleaded with MSI to reconsider and eventually their claim was approved. She is now hoping to make it an election issue and convince the three party leaders that change is needed.

"I believe Nova Scotians have a right to know what parties are committed to doing something about this," she said.

Corrections

  • Maynard Simpson was incorrectly named as Maynard Taylor in an earlier version of this article.
    Oct 02, 2013 9:54 PM AT