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Charity helps cancer patients access more than £19million of support

Pictured: Debbie with her sons

Macmillan Cancer Support has secured more than £19million in welfare benefit payments for people with cancer in Wales during the Coronavirus pandemic.

New figures from Macmillan’s Wales-wide network of benefits advice services shows the charity helped more than 7,400 people in Wales to claim an average of over £2,600 between June 2020 and June 2021.

The services, funded by Macmillan Cancer Support and run in partnership with health boards and councils across Wales, were set up to help people with cancer cope with the huge financial pressures that many people face as a result of their illness.

Debbie from Machen in south Wales was supported by the Macmillan Welfare Benefits team based in Velindre Cancer Centre, where she was already working as part of a busy team of porters.

Having received her own diagnosis of breast cancer in March 2019, Debbie said: “When I heard the words “You have cancer” I almost collapsed because the fear was just so physical and immense.  I just shut down, stopped listening, couldn’t take things in.

“I am a wife, mother and daughter first so once my mind did start going again, I just automatically thought about my children, my husband, my parents and how to protect and be there for them all.

“But once the anxious wait for things to get moving is over, your treatment begins and then you start to feel the awful toll it takes on your body.  It was at that point that one of the biggest worries became work, and how to cope and pay for things.

“The welfare benefits team were absolute angels – it was an instant pressure relief and I couldn’t believe how quickly and easily they helped me.

“I talked to them when I was going through my treatment, a time when everything felt so suddenly real with my diagnosis.”

Debbie says the Macmillan benefits team at Velindre were a huge lifeline during the time she was dealing with the difficult realities of her cancer treatment.

She continued: “I was in ‘the cancer centre’, at different points I was experiencing hair-loss, extreme fatigue, endless nausea, blood clots, chemo fungi, a constant sore mouth all while asking myself on a daily basis “Is it working?  Am I going to be ok?  Am I going to be there for my family?”

“I don’t think I could have filled in my own name at that time, never mind filled out complex welfare benefits forms or tried to work out a system I had never used before.

“That is the difference the welfare benefits team made.  I went from worried about how to pay bills and when my sick pay might run out, to having the space and time I needed to recover rather than rushing back to work.

“Believe me, it’s not what you want, what you really want is your old life back.  But in many ways that had gone for me, I couldn’t do everything I was doing before cancer, especially not in a busy physical job.

“So, I had to find the space to discover the new me and what I was capable of – and that is the gift the welfare benefits team gave me.

“While I couldn’t and didn’t need to rush back to my old job because of the help they gave me, I am now back to work in a different role – one directly involved in helping improve services for people who find themselves in the same overwhelming position that I did.”

Macmillan relies almost entirely on donations from the public to fund services like the one that helped Debbie, and the charity is doing so at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a huge drop in its income.

Louisa Vitolo who is a Macmillan Welfare Benefits Adviser in Velindre said: “Cancer can come with so many unexpected costs and for many people it can also lead to a significant loss of income.

“Every day we hear from people who are trying to manage the huge emotional and physical strain of cancer, while having to worry about bills and finances at the same time.  Many have never tried to navigate the benefits system before and so don’t know what help is available.

“We want everyone with cancer to know that we are here, and that talking to us as early as possible can help take away just some of the anxiety we know they are feeling.  I would urge anyone with cancer to get in touch and see how we can help.”

The charity is now hoping that after 18-months of cancelled fundraising events, people across Wales will sign up for its famous Coffee Morning fundraiser which this year falls on 24 September, but which can be held whenever suits people best.

Richard Pugh, Head of Partnerships for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales said: “People with cancer need the time and freedom to recover and to adapt, and that is so very difficult if you are having to worry about how to put food on the table and keep a roof over your head at the same time..

“Cancer is not something that anyone can budget for, and we are immensely proud of what our Macmillan benefits advisers are achieving when it comes to relieving just some of the anxiety experienced by people with cancer in Wales.

“These are services that simply would not be there without the continued backing of our generous supporters.

“Our flagship Coffee Morning event is just around the corner on Friday 24 September.  We hope everyone will get involved, make up for some of the time we have all lost by getting together to enjoy some coffee and cake, and help us to keep services like this running at a time when people with cancer need us the most.”

Michele Pengelly, a Supportive Care Lead Nurse at Velindre added: “As a cancer nurse, I feel very fortunate indeed to have the support of the Macmillan Welfare Benefits team.

“In working so closely with people with cancer, we see daily how it can affect every part of a person’s life – it’s not just people’s physical health but their financial and emotional health as well.

“We are very grateful to Macmillan and their fabulous fundraisers for helping to put this much needed service in place, a service that is run with such kindness and compassion.”