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The Question: My brother was diagnosed with colon cancer and had an operation to remove the tumour. He now has to heal from surgery and then go on chemo and radiation. Before his cancer was discovered his marriage was already falling apart. That’s been very stressful for him and created an atmosphere unwelcoming to recovery. I, and my other siblings, want to help him. But he is in Ontario and we live in other provinces. (Three of us are in British Columbia and one is in Alberta.) How can we move him close to us so he is in a place where he can heal mentally and physically? I’m just not sure where to start and I am hoping for your guidance.
The Answer: I can understand your desire to help your brother. But there is much to consider before you move him across the country.
First and foremost, there needs to be a seamless transition in his cancer treatment. That means your bother’s physician in Ontario would have to refer him to an Alberta or B.C. doctor who is prepared to continue on with his care.
“You wouldn’t want to interrupt the treatment unless you know for sure he could be connected with another oncologist in a timely way,” says Denise Bilodeau, a social worker at the Odette Cancer Centre of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “So you would want to set that up ahead of time.”
You should also be aware your brother wouldn’t be eligible for Alberta or BC health insurance until he has lived in one of those provinces for at least three months. In the meantime, Ontario would continue to cover his basic medical expenses including hospital and doctor appointments related to his cancer care. But he would have to pay out-of-pocket for extras like home-care support – services normally covered if he remained in Ontario.
Ms. Bilodeau says it’s very uncommon for cancer patients to switch provinces in the middle of their treatment. When it does happen, it usually involves elderly parents who move to be closer to their adult children. As a general rule, patients don’t like to be uprooted.
So you may want to think about other options for aiding your bother. “There may be supports he can tap into here that will be enough to sustain him through his treatment,” notes Ms. Bilodeau.
For instance, cancer treatment programs normally include various forms of patient and family support. “A social worker could connect him with the appropriate community resources in his area and assess his level of need,” she says. He may qualify for nursing visits at home, personal care support, transportation to medical appointments, disability insurance, and financial assistance to cover the cost of cancer medications.
He may also have a network of friends, neighbours and co-workers who can pitch in. Ms. Bilodeau says there are numerous examples of “patients who don’t have family, but have a huge amount of support around them – and it’s just a matter of coordinating it.”
In your bother’s case, he has no shortage of siblings. Each of you could take turns visiting him during critical times in his treatment.
What’s more, the Internet makes it possible to stay in close touch with frequent emails and online video-calling services like Skype and iChat.
Once you’ve investigated the available resources, you may find your bother has sufficient support without relocating – and you may gain some piece of mind that it’s possible to help even when you live far way.
Paul Taylor, Sunnybrook’s Patient Navigation Advisor, provides advice and answers questions from patients and their families, relying heavily on medical and health experts. Email your questions toAskPaul@sunnybrook.ca