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Cancer is Costly

October 15, 2014

After informing me about the thyroidectomy process, the surgeon asked whether I had any questions.

“Yes,” I responded, “Do I have to pay for this procedure?”


Being sick is costly business. Thank goodness for healthcare coverage in Canada. Otherwise I would’ve had to decide whether or not I could afford to remove my cancerous lumps.  I don’t care to do the math yet, but I’m on medication for life. Depending on what age I live until, that could add up. There are fees that added up as well, including blocking the surgical room and for staying overnight in the hospital, not to mention the different painkillers. Not only are there extra bills to pay, there is the added opportunity cost of not being able to work.

Ironically enough, I saw a research assistant posting for a project that was looking at workplace accommodations for those with cancer. I have been wondering about when I will be able to go back to work. The eager, list-making, work-thriving me had penciled in a date for me to back in full swing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work that way. My body isn’t ready and I shouldn’t be pushing it.

Tuition Fees for Students...Are RidiculousThe other issue is that the concussion and the cancer forced to me take medical leave from school. Currently, I have been informed by the University of Toronto (U of T) that if I want to go back to finish my degree (I only have 1 remaining credit to graduate), I will have to pay an additional semester’s fees to be registered. I have already paid all tuition fees related to my degree (over $20,000 for the 2 year program) and I was only unable to complete on schedule due to highly extenuating health circumstances. The current policies in accommodating such health issues are essentially nonexistent. A semester’s fees as a full-time student would come to around $5500 and it is too late in my degree for me to change to part-time status.

My only option appears to be to apply for a bursary that would reduce my fees from full-time to part-time fees. If I received the bursary (and which I can only apply for retroactively after finishing the degree), that would still entail me paying a couple of thousand dollars. This system is just messed up. By hook or by crook, I have already paid for my degree by accumulating debt and now, I just want to finish it.

“Sorry, those are the rules.”

I have already gone through a number of channels and that seems to be the line everyone’s been fed. $6000 is not a small sum of money, especially for someone who isn’t working. Where do they think this money is going to appear from? And, it’s the principle of the matter. Sigh. Those rules were made by human beings, surely someone can change them. There is so much red tape and bureaucracy when probably all someone needs to do is enter my name as a registered student in the system. I suppose they don’t want me to set a precedent.

Live The Change For It To Become RealityI’m doing my best to get my coveted Masters of Public Health (MPH), but the number of barriers that exist is astounding. Irony of ironies, I’ve been learning about and working in the area of the Social Determinants of Health but I’ve also been living them. Within the Dalla Lana School of Public Health (DLSPH), we learn about the root causes of health problems, such as socioeconomic status, gender and education etc. As an institution that promotes access, self-advocacy and equity, it seems to me at least the faculty ought to be doing something so it doesn’t come across as either hypocritical or without enough backbone to stand up to whatever these larger forces at U of T are. In response to my dilemma, someone at the faculty department asked if I could “ask my husband for the extra money”. I didn’t even know what to say to that so I just opened and closed my mouth like a goldfish. I had no words, and apparently I still don’t…

I’m frustrated because I should not have to be worrying about this while trying to recover. I’m being sent from one person to the next all over the university trying to figure out some way around this. If anyone has any leads or thoughts, I’m all ears. In the meantime, I’m living off my emergency savings. Oh sorry I forgot, I have a husband to rely on now so all my monetary woes are over.


I received this in an email today from SGS: “tuition unfortunately can never be waived for a student (even if there’s just a little bit of work left to do)”. My partner astutely pointed out though it’s not about waiving any fees, it’s about letting me finish what I have already paid for. The charges are not applicable to begin with.

I contacted the Office of the Ombudsperson who referred me to the Life Sciences Student Services Officer at the School of Graduate Studies who referred me to the Graduate Awards Office. I then contacted a couple of people at the DLSPH again and am waiting to hear back.