Posted on Tuesday 12 November 2019

Finn’s story – travelling 100 miles round-trip for cancer treatment was financially devastating

Finn was diagnosed with leukaemia in October 2015 when he was just three-years-old. Mum Debbie shares their family story from diagnosis and having to travel 100 miles round-trip for cancer treatment, to almost losing their home because of the financial pressures.

Debbie and son Finn

“Finn had an ear ache about three weeks before his diagnosis. It wasn’t really bothering him, so it wasn’t a big worry. We went to the doctor and got some drops, which I didn’t like using. But then I took him back because they weren’t working and I asked for some oral antibiotics. He seemed like he was a bit better and was still active at school and doing things, except swimming because of his ear.

“A few days before, he had fallen off his scooter and he had some bruises on his leg. He also had a little cut which didn’t heal very well. On the Sunday he was really lethargic and looked a bit pale and unwell. He wanted to go in to nursery the next day though. I took him in but he looked terrible when I picked him up. He was grey. So we went back to the doctors. They agreed he looked bad, but couldn’t find anything wrong with him. They suggested getting him checked at the hospital, but didn’t really have any urgency. They weren’t worried.

“I don’t know how I already knew, but I called my husband to say that Finn was poorly and that he would need to pick up Archie, our other boy, who was six at the time. I had this thing in my head eating away at me. We went home, I packed a bag for us and I googled leukaemia.

“Then we were in the hospital for the tests and one of the nurses asked me, trying to do so causally, where my husband was. I said he was at home, then asked why. I knew it was because they had the results and wanted us both to be there. I got annoyed and said I was leaving with Finn. All hell broke loose and they were telling me not to go. I said: ‘he either has an ear infection or he has leukaemia – which one is it?’ They said: ‘Sorry but it’s leukaemia’.

“I don’t know why I was so sure, but something in me knew. So there I am, alone, with my little boy and he has leukaemia. The floor just drops out of your world really. It was the worst moment. It’s impossible to describe – time just stands still.”

The family live in Warminster, Wiltshire, but their nearest specialist treatment centre is in Southampton – 50 miles from home.

“We were taken by ambulance to Southampton hospital. That ambulance ride was one of my lowest points. It was a long journey and I was just completely lost. I didn’t know what was awaiting me. During all of this we were telling Finn that he had poorly blood and we were going to make him better. But I didn’t know what was going to happen.

“My husband came to join us and then we were able to get a room at CLIC Sargent’s Home from Home. That place was brilliant because we were able to get out of the hospital and just have a shower and be out of that atmosphere. Also we were a long way away from the hospital, so it made a real difference for us. Our home was 50 miles away and it was a two hour drive, so this gave us somewhere to be.

“We wiped out our savings within the first couple of months, everything we had was gone. Finn was diagnosed a week before half term and that meant that my husband couldn’t work for two weeks to look after Archie while he was not at school, and I had to give up my job to be with Finn. So that stopped the money coming in straight away.

“We were in Southampton for eight weeks initially, because Finn had a bad reaction to the chemotherapy. Other people were going home, but we couldn’t. It was an incredibly hard time. It was relentless. I would drive home, do some quick shopping, clean the house and get Archie and then I would be back again.

“Everything gets expensive very quickly. You’re paying for fuel and travel straight away and we have a Land Rover which is old and just drinks diesel. You’re just flying around, not shopping properly, not packing the right things and not stopping at all. You are just grabbing at things and getting on with it.”

After Finn’s initial treatment, he moved on to maintenance treatment for three years and the family’s finances continued to spiral.

“We had arrears stack up on our mortgage and in September 2018 we were hit with a court date for eviction. After we received the letter telling us that we could be losing our home I was on the phone pleading to the mortgage company, who didn’t want to hear it. I told them that Finn was due to finish his treatment in a few months and we would no longer be spending so much on travel to hospital, so we just needed to work out a repayment plan from that point. But they didn’t listen.

“In November we went to court and thankfully the judge saw that we’d been paying what we could and that we had plans to sort out the arrears as soon as we could manage. The whole situation was hideous though, there’s no way this should be happening to families. It’s not about the house – I’d give my house away 10 times over for my child’s life, but we were in a vulnerable situation and not able to see a way out.

“This could happen to anyone whose child suddenly gets a cancer diagnosis, losing everything you’ve ever worked for. People are vulnerable, someone needs to help somewhere. We had a couple of grants from different charities, but we would’ve been stuffed without it. Now I can’t help but worry about things. If the car breaks down, or the boiler fails, I don’t know how we would pay for it. Without a doubt money was one of the biggest issues for us.”

The Martin family are backing CLIC Sargent’s call for a Young Cancer Patient Travel Fund. Sign your support to ask all party leaders to commit to the fund if they become the next Prime Minister.

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