Comox Valley cancer patient worried about bankruptcy

Merville resident Donald Playfair worries that treatment for cancer will bankrupt him. - Scott Stanfield
Merville resident Donald Playfair worries that treatment for cancer will bankrupt him.
— image credit: Scott Stanfield

Living with cancer has hit Donald Playfair between the eyes — and in the pocketbook.

Last October, the 63-year-old Merville resident was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, also known as pre-leukemia. This month, he will undergo a stem cell transplant at Vancouver General Hospital.

Fortunately, his 66-year-old brother Richard is a perfect donor match, and will fly from Ontario to Vancouver, compliments of Hope Air, which provides free air travel for Canadians in financial need.

Playfair is a former BC Ferries employee who worked at the local casino until his diagnosis. He was told he could have his job back when his health improves.

He receives a monthly fixed income of about $1,500, and rents a coach house for $800 a month.

Playfair's Employment Disability claim has expired. He is disqualified for disability from the Canada Pension Plan because he was receiving regular payments 20 months before the diagnosis. And, because his income is more than allowed, he is ineligible for Income Assistance.

Which leaves Playfair between the proverbial "rock and a hard place." He expects to be bankrupt after paying for accommodations at home and across the water during treatment and recovery. After discharge from hospital, he will spend three or four months at the Canadian Cancer Society's Jean C. Barber Lodge, which costs $44 a day with meals and duty staff. The total will be about $5,500 at the end of four months.

Thanks to advocacy from North Island MP John Duncan, VGH donated $600 to Playfair's expenses. The CCS will reimburse $360 in expenses.

"In other words, you're on your own," said Playfair, whose mother and older brother passed away from cancer. "There are no programs for older people on fixed incomes."

Financial support — one of many CCS support programs — is designed to provide limited, short-term financial assistance.

"We realize it's not enough when you're going through cancer, but we're also trying to help a lot of people with a limited amount of dollars," said Brian LeFurgey, CCS regional director for Vancouver Island. He notes 187,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed last year in Canada.

"We're one organization trying to do a lot of things. Which is why we have limitations. The bottom line is, there's nothing fair about cancer."

The mission of the CCS is to eradicate cancer and to enhance the quality of life for those living with the disease. Programs are donor-funded while lodges receive minimal government subsidies. For years, the society has advocated nationally for more financial support for patients and caregivers.

Since 1947, the CCS has invested billions into research. In the 1950s, according to statistics, there was a 28-per-cent survival rate five years after diagnosis. By 1990, the rate was 55 per cent. In the 2000s it jumped to 63 per cent.

"That's a tremendous amount of progress," LeFurgey said. "There's a long way to go still, but that's why research dollars are critical."

Heeding the advice of Comox Valley MLA Don McRae's office, Playfair has applied to BC Housing's Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program that provides monthly payments to subsidize rents for eligible residents 60 or older. He is also waiting to hear about an application for the federal Disability Tax Credit.

Anyone wishing to assist Playfair financially, or help him establish an account at, can reach him at 250-465-2642.


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