When a cancer diagnosis is given, it’s not just dealing with the physical and emotional distress, there’s often a financial toll that also has to be faced, and when Katrina went on sick leave and was then made redundant, there were many unexpected bills that needed to be paid.
Katrina started working for WH Smith when she was 17, following in her mum’s footsteps. When she went off to university, she was able to get a transfer to a local store to help her support her studies and continued to work for the company for six years in total.
She had spells as a legal secretary and admin assistant, then at the age of 34 was in the process of setting up a tutoring company with her mum and sister when, after a variety of unexplained symptoms over several years, she noticed a lump on her forehead. It continued to grow, but her GP thought that it would go with time.
Following several missed opportunities to correctly diagnose her problem, a very rare cancer called Multiple Myeloma had eaten into her skull resulting in the need for reconstructive surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy in April 2022.
Multiple Myeloma is extremely rare and normally affects those in their late 60s to early 70s. The disease has left her in pain and has attacked the bones in Katrina’s spine, skull, hips, shoulders, knees and ankles. She underwent a stem cell transplant requiring three weeks of intense therapy in hospital over Christmas last year. To add to the worry, it was during this time that her mother, who still works for WH Smith, was also receiving treatment in a different hospital for a rare stomach tumour.
Katrina’s illness means she often struggles to get upstairs and is unable to walk long distances. Chemotherapy makes her skin extremely sensitive to the sun and the shortest exposure, even with sun protection, gives her severe blisters and burns from which she takes weeks to recover. She takes daily chemotherapy tablets and has bone strengthening infusions and regular physio and checkups.
Katrina has moved her bedroom downstairs, and has had to buy a new bed and chair. She had a four-month period when, to protect herself, she wasn’t allowed to leave home, so the family used credit to buy her a treadmill so she can exercise when she is able.
It has been a very challenging time, as Katrina explains: “During my treatment I was on steroids that kept me awake all night and I wasn’t allowed to go out. We had to be so careful that I didn’t catch any bugs as my resistance was so low. The treadmill helps keep me sane.
“The family decided to take me on holiday, to celebrate my remission, but my insurance was £400 and we had to pay £350 for a scooter for the two weeks that we were away.”
Katrina told her nurse how anxious she was about money and it was suggested that she ask some charities for help. Fortunately, she came across the BOSS Business Supplies Charity.
She continues: “My dad died of cancer when I was seven years-old and my mum brought us up on her own for many years. She has always been hard working and I’ve been working since I was 14, so I’ve always been independent and never asked anyone for financial help before. When I found out about the BOSS Charity, I made my application and had a really quick response. I was awarded a grant which I’m going to use to make some adaptations to the house. We need to widen the garden step because I’m unsteady on my feet, and I need a hand rail. I love sitting in the garden so I’d love to buy a sunshade so I can sit out safely without it harming my skin. Soon, but hopefully, not too soon, I will need walking aids and further adaptations to the house but, while I can, I’m trying to walk regularly. I know if the cancer does flare up again, it will reattack the bones, so I’m enjoying being able to do what I can now, but it is always another worry.
“I can’t thank the BOSS Charity enough. The grant is going to make a huge difference to me. I’m so grateful.”
Each year, around 5,900 people in the UK are diagnosed with myeloma. After the pandemic years, 851 remain unidentified. Visit Myloma UK to find out more.