Financial support for cancer care in rural and remote communities

Thanks to generous donors like Agnico Eagle Mine Limited, people affected by cancer in rural and remote areas will get the support they need throughout their cancer experience. Their gift of $3 million over 10 years will help people in Northern Ontario have better access to cancer information and support services and provide improved access to culturally appropriate cancer resources for Indigenous communities. For Renée and Ava Meyer, who live in North Bay, this kind of support is vital.

Renée Meyer and her daughter Ava, hugging and smiling.
Renée Meyer (right) and Ava Meyer (left)

Finding cancer early and learning about treatments

Shortly after Renée Meyer celebrated her daughter Ava’s first birthday, Ava came down with a case of bronchitis. After a hospital visit, Renée learned that Ava might have neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a genetic disorder that can cause cancerous tumours to grow within the nervous system. Wanting to be proactive about her daughter’s health, Renée also did her own research to learn about her symptoms. She became even more convinced Ava had neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).

“The pediatrician actually thought I was onto something and told me to follow up with my family doctor,” shares Renee. “I went to see her, and I told her what I thought.  She thought I was crazy.”

Results from a geneticist confirmed that Ava was positive for NF1. She was admitted for an MRI, which revealed she had a brain tumour wrapped around her optic nerves. For a year and a half, Ava went through chemotherapy. But they knew the treatments would continue to be long and difficult. 

It wasn’t just like chemotherapy was done and that’s the end of it for her. This is going to be a lifelong struggle. More tumours will grow, more will develop. How severe it gets? We have no idea. So, I think regardless of whether it’s Ava’s case or anybody with cancer, there are so many unknowns. And it can make it quite scary.

Trying to meet the new financial challenges of a diagnosis

Young Ava looking at the camera and smiling.
Ava Meyer

Although her mom helped when she could afford to do so, the financial burden of cancer added to the stress that Renée was already experiencing. “When Ava was first starting treatment, my attention wasn’t on the finances at that point. It was on my child,” says Renée.

One of Renée’s expenses during Ava’s treatments was purchasing cancer drugs – such as numbing cream so Ava’s chemotherapy could be given pain-free. However, although the hospital would send Renée home with cream, sometimes the numbing patches didn’t work.

Another out of pocket cost were hormone injections to delay Ava’s puberty, which Renée gave her every two to three weeks. This is an at-home treatment and was not covered by their provincial insurance.

Renée worked a minimum wage job and was the sole income in a family of five. As Ava’s treatments progressed, she also struggled with making it to work on time – especially if Ava had an ophthalmologist appointment or an MRI on the same day.

Eventually Renée was brought into an HR office, where she had to stand up for herself.

The pulled me into the office, and they asked, ‘what can we do to get you to work on time?’ I said, ‘get rid of my daughter’s cancer.' Because she comes first, job comes second," Renée remembers. "I didn’t receive child support at the time, so it was solely on me to be their provider: financially, emotionally and physically.

Support after financial stress

Renée and Ava walking on a wooden bridge in a park on a winter day
Renée (left) and Ava Meyer (right)

Fortunately, Renée turned to the Canadian Cancer Society for some financial assistance. A few months after Ava’s diagnosis, Renée heard about the Canadian Cancer Society’s Travel Treatment Fund. This program provides funding to low-income individuals to help with expenses from travelling to cancer treatments. Travel expenses that are covered include fuel, taxis and public transit fares.

It was a huge relief,” says Renée. “My mom used to pay for her own gas to drive us to Ava's appointments, but I knew it was financially hard on her.

Having NF1 means that managing Ava’s health will be a lifelong struggle. Now that Renée is a business owner, she strives to provide more compassion and understanding to her own employees. And she believes that it is important to share her story, to highlight the financial impact of cancer so that other families don’t feel so alone. 

“Talking about finances makes it less taboo and more a part of everyday life, because every day somebody’s dealing with it.”