Work and financial aspects of survivorship

As hard as it is going through a cancer diagnosis, sometimes developing your new normal can be even harder. You might feel afraid and insecure about returning to the workforce and not know how to deal with the side effects of treatment. You may find it difficult to respond to people’s preconceived ideas about cancer. Small tasks that you could perform without thinking now may be a struggle. For some people, going back to work is a challenge, but for others it might be impossible. The Canadian Cancer Society maintains that “you may be told that you’ll feel back to normal in a matter of weeks or months, when in fact recovery can take much longer.”[1]

The cancer journey might also have effects that go beyond those affecting the body. Even in Canada, where we have free, comprehensive and universal healthcare, you can face devastating financial effects. Loss of income from having to take unpaid time off, extra expenses and increasing debt might have a great impact in the journey toward recovery.

However, there are assistance programs that can help somewhat with finances:

  • Financial assistance programs
  • Income tax credits
  • Government benefits

Employment Insurance (EI) Sickness Benefits for those unable to work due to illness but it is limited both in length and amount of benefits to a maximum of 15 weeks and 55% of income. In addition, you must have worked at least 600 hours before qualifying for benefits, and if a second round of treatment is necessary, you might not qualify for EI benefits.

Employment Insurance Compassionate Care Benefits help caregivers who need time off work to care for a family member who is gravely ill and who has a significant risk of death. In this case, the same limitations previously mentioned in the section on EI Sickness Benefits apply.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Benefits assist those who become disabled and their dependent children. It is also limited in the amount of benefits. The nature of the disability must be considered severe and prolonged or likely to result in death, and there is no chance to go back to work. At least four years of contributions during the last six years are required. In addition, the application process is long and difficult.

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) helps poor people with disabilities pay for living expenses, like food and housing. The ODSP payment in 2009 was $10,881 per year, which doesn’t cover food and shelter for most people and leaves cancer patients lacking the most essential balanced diet. Furthermore, recipients must deplete their savings before they become eligible for this benefit.[2]

Canada Revenue Agency – Medical Expenses: medical costs incurred by individuals can be deducted from income tax.[3]

Ontario Drug Benefit Program is geared to people 65 years old or older and covers most medications for those living in a long-term care facility or earning less than $19,300 a year for a single senior and $32,300 a year for a senior couple.


[2]Financial hardship of cancer in Canada: A call for Action.” Canadian Cancer Society.