Nfld. & Labrador

How do cancer charities support patients in N.L.?

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians donate millions of dollars to charitable cancer organizations each year. How much of that money goes directly to supporting cancer patients?

Diane Bishop's story raises questions about how charities provide direct support to patients

Diane Bishop continued to operate her convenience store in Mount Pearl to support her family while she had cancer treatments. After her story was published, strangers began to drop off donations at her store. (Sherry Vivian/CBC )

Whether it's lending their time to help a neighbour move, opening their homes to a plane full of stranded passengers, or donating money to a good cause, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are known for being a generous bunch.

The people of this province donate millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours to charitable organizations each year, all to help make a difference to those in need, or ease the stress of families going through a rough time.

But a recent story about Diane Bishop — a Mount Pearl woman forced to continue working while battling an aggressive form of breast cancer — raised an interesting question: How much of the money raised by cancer foundations goes directly to supporting cancer patients?

CBC contacted three cancer organizations operating in St. John's — the provincial chapter of the Terry Fox Foundation, the local division of the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation — to ask how they support to cancer patients and their families.

The answer, it turns out, depends on which organization you ask.

Terry Fox: research, improved treatments

When it comes to providing financial and other forms of support to cancer patients, the Terry Fox Foundation is the easiest to calculate: it's zero dollars and zero cents.

All money raised by the Terry Fox Foundation goes towards expanding research and improving cancer treatments.

Terry Fox Foundation provincial director Heather Strong says Newfoundlanders and Labradorians donate about $350,000 annually. The foundation supports research initiatives and improved treatments. (CBC)

"The mandate was established by Terry before he died. He wanted to focus on improved treatments," said Heather Strong, provincial director of the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of the Terry Fox Foundation.

He wanted to focus on improved treatments.- Heather Strong, Terry Fox Foundation

Strong said the people of this province donate around $350,000 annually to the foundation through various Terry Fox Runs and other fundraising activities.

That money is funnelled into a national pot. Then, according to Strong, "research grants are allocated through rigorous peer review" to various cancer studies across the country.

Bliss Murphy: equipment, support for patients

By contrast, the locally run Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation raises money for the Cancer Care Program at Eastern Health. The funds are used in several different ways.

The bulk of the donations goes towards buying cancer treatment equipment. However, as executive director Lynette Hillier explained, the foundation also offers financial assistance for eligible patients.

"As one of our initiatives, we have a Patient and Family Support Fund that assists cancer patients and their families who experience financial hardship as a result of a cancer diagnosis," she said in an email response.

This fundraiser by Newfoundland Power employees is just one example of how people donate to cancer charities. (Twitter: @NFPower)

The program is part of the cancer patient intake assessment at Eastern Health. Patients are screened based on financial need and, if eligible, they are referred to a social worker who then sets them up in the program.

According to figures published by the foundation, from April 2016 to March 2017, around 499 cancer patients and their families received approximately $135,000 in cash, groceries, and gas.

In total, the fund has provided rougly $800,000 to patients since 2010.

Daffodil Place: a roof over their heads

Over at the Canadian Cancer Society, executive director Matthew Piercey points to the 24-room Daffodil Place as its flagship initiative to directly support cancer patients and their families.

Matthew Piercey, with the N.L. chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society, says Daffodil Place is run almost entirely on public donations. He says stories of cancer patients' financial struggles are common. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

"Daffodil Place opened in July 2009 to help ease the financial burden for people travelling into St. John's for cancer related appointments. Since that time, 4,896 people from 400 communities have spent over 60,000 nights with us," he said.

We hear stories of people selling off their property, their Ski-Doos, their quads.- Matthew Piercey, Canadian Cancer Society-NL

Daffodil Place charges a nominal fee of $30 per night for patients who travel to St. John's for cancer treatments and related appointments. The fee includes their room, meals and, if needed, transportation to and from appointments.

Piercey said it costs around $650,000 annually to operate Daffodil Place, money that comes entirely from public donations.

The facilities are regularly booked solid and they currently have a three-page waitlist for patients and their families who need somewhere to stay during their treatments.

Daffodil Place offers accommodations to cancer patients receiving treatments in St. John's. Executive director Matthew Piercey says there is a three-page long waitlist for the facility. (CBC )

He said Diane Bishop's story is a familiar one.

"At Daffodil Place, we see it quite often … We hear stories of people selling off their property, their Ski-Doos, their quads," he said.

"They have enough on their plate with travel, medications, maybe they had to quit their jobs. And then the stress of the diagnosis itself ... The last thing you need to worry about is your finances."

About the Author

Jonny Hodder is a journalist with CBC Radio based in St. John's.

With files from On The Go