Cancer is everywhere, but many Canadians still don't know a lot about the day-to-day challenges faced by people diagnosed with the disease.
We might fundraise and read about cancer research, but if we try to imagine what it would actually be like to be diagnosed, fear stops us in our tracks.
"You have cancer." How terrible it would be to hear you have a disease that is expected to kill 75,700 Canadians in 2012, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Just the thought is enough to make us want to curl up into ball on the floor and never get up.
But people who hear those words for real don't have that luxury. For them, the fear is just the beginning. From that moment on, and with little time to reflect, they're expected to work through an avalanche of new information, make life-and-death decisions and find some way to make the rest of their lives - work, parenting, school - stop long enough for them to get better.
But life doesn't stop - especially for those who don't have a lot of money.
Too sick to work? The bills keep coming. Government programs we've paid into all our lives aren't always enough to cover them, according to a Canadian Cancer Action Network report this month. So some drag themselves to work before they're ready and others become dependent on welfare for the rest of their lives, because they've had to spend all their savings and sell their homes before qualifying for social assistance. The CCAN report calls on federal and provincial governments to improve supports for these people - if not for the humanity, then for the long-term bottom line.
All that money we've raised for cancer research hasn't been in vain; more people with cancer are living longer all the time. Letting them fall through our social safety net to save money in the short term is shortsighted and inhuman.
It's time for our local politicians to step up and work to extend government supports, so people with cancer don't have to worry about being financially gutted once their treatment is done.