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How to get practical support and advice

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Sandra Benson

Macmillan CancerLine Manager, Macmillan Cancer Relief, London

Housing and finances

Housing and finances
Mr Parker has lung cancer and difficulty in breathing. He lives in a third-floor flat, which does not have lift access. He is struggling physically and financially. He may be 'statutorily homeless' in law, even though he owns his flat, because he cannot access his flat due to the stairs.

Patients and their families often find it easier to deal with the physical symptoms of cancer than to worry about the financial implications.

Citizens advice bureaus and Macmillan Cancer Relief can help to assess Mr Parker's financial situation and benefits he may be able to claim. The 24-hour helpline Shelterline may be able to advise on housing law. His GP and social services can organise a care assessment and arrange for an occupational therapist to make a housing and health needs assessment.

Mr Parker may be referred to a Macmillan nurse or other clinical nurse specialist. Macmillan produces booklets on coping with breathlessness and a Relax 'n' Breathe CD to help self-manage symptoms. A further resource is The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, tel: 0871-220 5426, a charity dedicated to lung cancer.

An easy-to-use guide to benefits, Help with the Cost of Cancer, is published by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Inland Revenue. It lists other sources of financial and practical support for people living with cancer, their carers and families, as well as details of relevant statutory and voluntary organisations.

Medical and practical help
Mrs Jones is an elderly woman, whose husband has terminal prostate cancer and is confined to bed. They have no home support and have been given little information. He is incontinent, and is leaking and bleeding from the operation site. She does not know what to expect or how to manage practically, emotionally and financially.

The patient's general practice should be contacted urgently to review the leakage and bleeding from the operation site. Social services may be able to offer support in the home and assess the couple's needs, such as providing meals on wheels and help with housework/shopping, and to look at any changes that could be made in the couple's house.

Home support, such as a Marie Curie nurse, may be also be available. Because of the husband's continence problems, a Macmillan grant may be available to help with bedding, or a washing machine to help with the extra laundry.

Mrs Jones may be entitled to a carer's allowance to help the couple financially. The Prostate Cancer Support Association will have details of a local support group, information about the illness and can offer support.

Professional advice and self-help groups
A middle-aged woman had surgery for breast cancer nine years ago, which included a mastectomy. The cancer has returned in the other breast. The specialist has advised that she will need surgery, and it is her choice if she wants the lump removed or to have a full mastectomy. She is upset, confused and does not understand the difference between the options or why she was asked to make the decision. She felt too intimidated to ask questions.

People affected by cancer often find consultations intimidating or confusing. This can create mistrust of the health professional, and the patient and their family will need emotional support to deal with the news and consider the options.

Helplines give people the chance to talk about their concerns and can give information on medical, financial and emotional support.

Callers to the charity Breast Cancer Care helpline can talk to nurses about more complex clinical issues. Patients may also benefit from speaking with others affected by breast cancer, through local self-help and support groups (Macmillan or Breast Cancer Care can provide details).

Author contact details
Sandra Benson, Macmillan CancerLine, Macmillan Cancer Relief, 89 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UQ. Email:


The helpline offers information and emotional support for people living with cancer. Staff listen to callers' concerns and put them in touch with relevant support, such as a Macmillan service, other organisation that offers information and guidance, or a local support group. The service can be accessed free by telephone, email or the web. A textphone service is available for hearing-impaired people; a link to an interpreting service enables the helpline to to advise people in up to 150 languages.


People living with cancer may incur extra costs, which may cause financial problems for those on a low income or those who have to stop work during treatment. In some cases, Macmillan Cancer Relief may be able to provide financial help.

- Grants: for adults, young people and children with cancer to help with practical needs. Application forms are stocked by most health and local authorities, and some voluntary organisations. The form is submitted to Macmillan, along with a medical report

- Benefits advice: for people with cancer and their carers who need help with benefits and other financial support.

This booklet provides information on treatment for cancer. It includes useful questions to ask health professionals, lists various support organisations and charities, and offers advice for family and friends.

Further details
Information on the resources listed here can be obtained from: Macmillan Cancer Relief resources line, tel: 01344-350310.

Macmillan CancerLine, freephone: 0808-808 2020, Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm; textphone: 0808-808 0121; email:; website:

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