Tag Archives: DWP

My Worth

With the exception of the first few weeks of my relapse when I near dehydrated myself due to the constant flow of tears, leading those close to me to believe that I had given up the good fight, I have spent the last two months being the brave old soul that I know and love. The smile you see, is not a fake one, I am committed to finding the best in the situation I find myself in. Even if that situation involves my ever expanding waist. I know I am doing well given my current predicament because my counsellor has told me so. The reason, I believe I am coping, is because when I feel a problem looming, I acknowledge it. Hiding it is unhealthy and let’s face it, I’m unhealthy enough as it is.

In the last fortnight, coming off the back of my dodgy stomach, I have noticed that I am at risk of rocking my battered paddle boat. I’m snappy and my sleep is broken by something that is not related to rolling from left to right or my weak bladder. At the forefront of my mind is money. My impending lack of money. It’s a multilayered mess of stress and uncertainty, both in the short and the long term.

On 30 August, I officially went onto nil pay, which means exactly what you think it means. Or at least I think it does. Until I went onto nil pay, I was unable to apply for the government handouts, which I hope are going to keep me afloat until the end of the latest volume of My Myeloma Tale. Due to my unexpected illness, I was a week late in applying for the three benefits I think I am going to require. At least, the three benefits the various faceless people I have spoken to on the telephone have told me I can apply for. The applications were long and they were tiresome, and despite the fact that all three are now in the post, I am not any clearer about how much money I am going to receive.

Thankfully, I am already in receipt of Personal Independence Payment, which was once called Disability Living Allowance. Since I was granted this money in December last year, I have used this money for the reason it is given to me, to help me live my life around my disability. Until I have confirmation from the Department of Work and Pensions and Islington Council, this money has become my main source of income. A source of income that does not cover my rent, let alone my food delivery or paying somebody to clean my flat.

I am also receiving some sort of sick leave entitlement, but it is not Statutory Sick Pay, which I was recently told I have exhausted. Prior to this, I sought advice from Macmillan and I used my own smarts to research the benefit system. It’s a pernickety system, and having discovered that I am not entitled to SSP, I no longer know if the several forms I completed last week are correct. As soon as I begin to question this, my brain explodes with questions, anxiety and paranoia over what money I will get or not get as a result. It goes something like this:

em>If I am no longer eligible for SSP, does this mean I am entitled to more of less money? Have I committed fraud by saying I am not receiving SSP but I am receiving the equivalent amount of money from another source? Why have I exhausted SSP, because Macmillan advised me that it resets after eight weeks of full time work and pay? I need to sort my pills out. The DWP guidance is unclear, do I need to phone another anonymous help desk number to get an answer, and if I do get an answer, how do I know it will be the correct one? Oh gods, I am tired. Does this mean that I should have applied for ESA instead of income support? If that is the case why wasn’t I informed that I had exhausted SSP and given the necessary form? WHY AM I STILL CONSTIPATED? I need to sleep. Can I afford to buy a can of Rio? Will I have to reapply for everything? Will the money come through before my rent is due on 15 October?

To date I have applied for Income Support via the Job Centre, which required a 45 minute phone call followed by a 14 page form received through my letterbox two days later. The application was also accompanied by two months worth of wage slips, a copy of my newly issued passport, my PIP entitlement letter and letters confirming my nil pay. For housing benefit, the form was a mere 29 pages plus seven support documents including those listed above and my tenancy agreement, my P60 and a copy of my bank statement. Only one telephone call was required asking if my tenancy agreement arrangements would fall within their rules for assistance. Yesterday, I completed my final form, which I requested eight days previously for Working Tax Credits. It was a form, that at this stage at least required no support documentation, but only asked for my financial situation up to April 2014. The forms cost me Β£10 in photocopying and Β£2 in stamps. Stamps!

Having spent most of my good hours last week repeatedly declaring my single status, looking at my weak bank balance and putting pen to paper to say that I need somebody else’s help, has surely made me question my existence. When I am not being melodramatic, it just makes me question the choices I have made and continue to make. I do not know how it is possible to fit your personal worth on a form, but that is what I have had to do, and it does not amount to much. And then I start to think:

‘What if I do not get housing benefit? What if they do not approve of the number of tickets I purchased for the London Film Festival even though they are going to get my good cylinder through Cycle 4? What if they do not accept the tenancy agreement? My back hurts. Will I have to apply again for the tax credits to reflect my nil pay? Why was there not space for this on the form? Is my landlord going to put up the rent? How am I going to get to the hospital? I have cancer.’

If all this was not enough, everything else going on around me has become a chore. Answering my phone is a chore. Speaking on the phone is chore. Emailing is a chore. Things that will only take a few minutes feel like they are the equivalent to writing a dissertation, hell, even keeping my blog up to date has felt like a chore. Like many things, I know that the minute I do them, I feel better, but I fear managing them in the first place. I do not trust my mood, which I fear is assisted by the Dexamethasone, Revlimid and Cyclophosphamide.

Think I am exaggerating? Well, I am fortunate enough to be going on an externally funded holiday in a fortnight, and last week, the tour operator said that I needed to get medical approval before I travelled. Not only did this cause me stress, but it caused Mama Jones to worry, which then increased my stress. I know it increased my stress level because I initially ignored it, shouted at my mother and made her mange it. There is only so much my drugs allow me to deal with in a given week. The situation was not helped by the fact that the Medically Trained Person who said that I could go on holiday was not in last week, and another Medically Trained Person said that they did not think it was a good idea. It was yet another thing to make me feel itchy. Fortunately, the approval came through yesterday, but it threatened one of the few things I have that I am genuinely looking forward to.

I am also in the middle of sorting out my long term financial security, and this, above everything else makes me feel pressured and most uncertain about my future. There is nothing I can do but wait and continue to believe that my treatment will be successful. In the short term, I have to make sure that I get out of bed everyday, because this week to date, the inclination to do so has left me. I used to me good a dealing with pressure, but this is not the electricity going off at a campsite full of irate customers; this is my life.

As with the pain in my back, I feel like all of this is taking my focus and energy I should be giving to my treatment, away from my treatment. I have felt worse in the last few weeks than I have in a long time, and I believe that this is only slightly related to my medication. Money is stressful and having cancer does not change that, although in an ideal world, it would do. It’s the reality of having cancer, and right now, I truly wish it was not. Chemotherapy is enough for me.

I will leave you with this thought. According to a handy leaflet from Macmillan, a single, childless person under the age of 34 can get a maximum Β£350 of benefits a month excluding PIP and ESA payments. This means that I will get between Β£850-2100 a month; I just have no idea where on that spectrum I am going to end up. What am I actually worth?

That equates to a sleepless night or two.

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πŸ’ΆπŸ’·πŸ’΅πŸ’΄

EJB x

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Price Tag

True story, Cancer is a blood sucking and money grabbing parasite. It robs people of so much. Too much.

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As a cancer sufferer, I know the hidden costs of cancer and at this point in my story, my hidden costs pale in insignificance to what other people have spent and lost. In a game that ultimately hinges on life and death, any consideration to money seems tasteless. If you want to see a bright side, the fact that money or my lack there of, is occupying my thoughts at the moment shows that I have yet to be truly affected by the horrific costs that can come with cancer. In my present however, the financial worries that accompanies my relapse are costing me more than just my lifestyle, it’s threatening my independence.

Whether you have cancer or know somebody who has cancer, in the UK at least, cancer costs something, even if it is just something as uncouth as money. I am fortunate enough to live in a land where all my healthcare is paid for; I have expressed my sincere gratitude and relief about this before. I have also talked about how My Myeloma had made me a pauper. Never though, in my story thus far, has my money and my ability to earn it been as compromised as it has been since I relapsed. I am in dire straits and you don’t get money for nothing. Accept, that is exactly what I need, not that I would describe cancer as ‘nothing’.

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With the exception of my early months with myeloma and my stem cell transplant, I was able to work and have an income in some capacity since my diagnosis. In these early days of my relapse, the jury is still out as to whether I am able to work on my current treatment. Everybody is telling me that my current priority has to be my treatment, and thus, despite trying for the first few days, I have not worked since. Due to the sick leave I have already accumulated, this means one thing in terms of my finances, and that is nil pay. It is my reward for having cancer. I have been told that when I return to work, my financial situation cannot be a consideration. There is no way in which it cannot be a consideration, but I am not stupid enough for it to be the decision maker. Inevitably then, at least in the short term as I regain my strength, my cancer treatment will not be the only thing the taxpayer gives me.

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I have had a job since I was 11 years old and the thought of government handouts does not sit well with me. I actually feel quite guilty about the fact that the benefit system is the only option for me to maintain any level of independence. I was 28 years old when I was told that I had myeloma and although I had a pension plan, I did not think about life insurance or any of the other things one sees advertised on digital tv channels along with the cancer charity adverts. Some might say that if I am not working, I should live off my mother instead of the State. Unfortunately, whilst this might appease some of my guilt, it would require packing up and moving away from the life I have created for myself. My Myeloma has taken away my money, my ability to socialise and it may still take my job; I think if I reverted to my childhood it would tip me over the edge and I just would not want to fight anymore. My good days are few and when those days come, I want to be able to embrace them doing the things I enjoy. I would lose the strength to fight My Myeloma if I took away the tools that keep me sane and stopped doing the things that form part of my identity. When it comes to myeloma, I am also sinfully suspicious and I would class leaving London as a bad omen. I am not ready to give up yet and I will not take anybody telling me otherwise.

I have investigated the UK benefit system previously, I told you all about it and the endless amount of forms I faced post transplant. Fortunately, at that time, I was not in a position where I had to solely rely on state handouts and I only applied and was granted something called Personal Independence Payment, that would be a disability living allowance in old speak. Now however, I have to delve that little bit deeper. Macmillan were on hand to advise, and in the coming months I shall be in receipt of Statutory Sick Pay, a bargain at Β£88 a week. To subsidise that, I shall also be applying for a few other things once I have multiple copies of anything to have ever been printed with my name on. It’s going to be a tiring process and one that I wish I did not have to partake in, especially when I am on so many opiates. It makes it incredibly difficult to focus. The sad truth is, I need your money, I need it just as much as I need my medicine. If I have said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times, living costs money, even when you have cancer and if there was ever a time when living becomes essential, it is when you have cancer. At least if my treatment remains as a periodically debilitating as it is at the moment, living will cost me less money than it does when I am at my New Normal. Silver lining.

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The hidden cost covers more than money. Since my diagnosis, being able to work and to do something that is not about my illness has been my sanctuary. Working allowed me to have something independent from myeloma as well as permitting me to be financially independent from it. I may find in a month or two that I need to work, not for money but for my mental health. Myeloma does not define me, neither does my job, but taking the latter away just makes more time for the former. Not knowing when I will go back to work is disconcerting. On a practical level, I cannot be the most desirable employee in the land and at times, I do not know if this means I will ever be able to go back. One thing is for certain, my superstitions are too great for me to consider a future without work. I need hope and I need my life and working is part of that. Admitting defeat and surrendering before the battle is not a part of that.

As far as I am concerned, all of this is a temporary measure. I’m fighting for survival in more ways than one. It has to be temporary. I will not hear otherwise.

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In other news, thank goodness I can cook, otherwise eating thriftily would be as dull as what I am sure living thriftily will prove to be. Of course I am being sarcastic, nobody can put a price on the fun My Support Network offers.

EJB x

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Yes/No

In my journey thus far, my brain has always been more willing than my body is able. This usually means that I say ‘yes’ to a myriad of things and then panic, sweat and have a sleepless night when it becomes apparent that I am going to fail. That’s really how things have worked everyday for the last 19 months.

The key point here, I guess, that I would like to highlight with lines made by a ruler and a red pen, is that I am almost always willing and more often than not, I do try to do what has been asked of me. Occasionally, I even succeed. A lot of the time, I fail. That’s really how things have worked everyday for the last 19 months.

Fortunately, my days at the moment are met with more success than failure. Providing I am sensible, I can achieve what I set out to achieve on any given day. The success is dependent on a number of factors including me having had to learn the power and advantages of saying ‘no’. I find saying ‘no’ very hard indeed, but in doing so, I am able to achieve much more than I have achieved in a very long time and that is not how it has been everyday for the last 19 months.

Learning to say ‘no’, or allowing myself to, as bittersweet as it is, is allows me to improve. There have four occasions in this last week, where every part of me has wanted to either go out or stay out, but some being separate to me has appeared in my brain and forced me home. If I am perfectly honest, most of the time when I am
in this predicament, I imagine what Housemate would say to me in the particular scenario and then act accordingly. It’s a tremendous amount of power to have to be sure. On Tuesday, the pain of leaving my party at 22:00hrs in a public house, to go to bed, was great. Big Sister had to validate my decision on the return to my room, because I saw it as a symbol of my losses. On Thursday, my decision to be in by bed by 23:00hrs also had to be validated. In my pre-myeloma life, I would have been aware of my need to rest, but I never acted upon it. Now, if I face any chance of living a normal life, I have to act upon it, and act upon it I do, multiple times a day.

It saddens me. Restricting myself, censoring myself if you will, saddens me. My Myeloma did that. But, if I did not do these things, I would not be able to tell you the next part of my tale….

And now, I boast.

A fortnight ago, before I got angry at the Velcade fatigue, I worked a 31 hour week and had an almost full day at the hospital. That my friends is called progress. I barely noticed my working hours that week, but I suspect that is because I had said ‘no’ enough times that I spent my evenings on my bed with the dog. Last week was met with a similar output, minus the weekend of Velcade fatigue, which was greatly appreciated. I worked for 33 hours this week with a day of annual leave. Boom. On Tuesday, I was awake for 17 whole hours and outside of a bed for 15 of those hours. Sure, I slept for 11.5 hours the night after, but that is still progress. Progress that can be backed up with actual evidence. Evidence by the way, that we would not have, if I had not also rediscovered by memory.

I am slowly trying to celebrate these successes. The pride I have in being able to work 31 hours a week, has been evident all week long and that has surprised me, because I think I have told everybody I have come into contact with that this is the case. I might have even told people who do not know me that this is the case. To those people, I am probably just lazy. The people who know me and have listened, congratulate me. Rarely do I go into the details of what this achievement means I cannot do, but that, I hope by now, is evident. In three weeks time, I hope to be able to work a 37 hour week, whilst continuing with my current treatment.

The right balance of the yes and no, continues to evolve and I have no idea what the ‘right’ balance will actually look like. It doesn’t look like what I am doing now that’s for certain, despite my boastful successes above. It cannot look like what I have now, because I am yet to factor in my pain management as well as my fatigue management. No doubt, a few more no’s, a little less spontaneity, a bucket load of tears and a haemorrhoid cushion will have to surface before we reach that level of paradise.

EJB x

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Bureaucracy – An Update

Some time ago, I attempted to explain the form filling nightmare that is the British benefits system. To be fair, I expected to fill out forms, just not as many as I did, nor did I expect to have to prove that I was not a Big Fat Liar. Three months on, however, I am in exactly the same situation I was in before I spent a considerable amount of my time writing my name and national insurance number over and over again.

If one thought that as policy makers, governments worked at a snails pace, it appears they work at a similar speed in all other areas under their remit. I am generalising here, incorrectly of course, for our Government is great, I am only talking about the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), and then I am not even really talking about the DWP, for they have passed my claim on to a contracted out company for assessment. My claim has been under their assessment for 92 days and they are yet to have looked at it. Let this be a lesson to you all, contracting out services works!

I have applied for something called Personal Independence Payment, which replaced the Disability Living Allowance. I am well aware that I do not need the full payment this benefit can offer. I do however, find that there are certain things that cost more money, now I’m a a disabled. Travelling costs more money and it is more difficult than it was before. I get more buses because I cannot walk as far, I even venture on the tube now, even more occasionally than that, is the luxury of a taxi because I get too tired to move and my back feels like it is going to snap; these may sound like small things to you, but they cause me no end of headaches. In my flat, I cannot properly clean and I cannot carry my groceries. I attempted the Hoover yesterday, and let me tell you, today, I very much ache, despite my double dosing last night. There are small adaptations to be sure, but adaptions that cost me money that I do not have, or ruin my few good hours a day with unnecessary pain.

It is not just your money I am after. I really and truly want the government to recognise me as ‘disabled’. It would well and truly make my disabled life much easier, if I were qualify for the national concessions. It would make my bus journey safer and it would give me more energy when I am being driven. It would mean that I would not always have to say why I am disabled.

I have been waiting for the outcome of my PIP claim, before I pursue local options, as it means that I would have to jump through less hoops.

I am becoming doubtful, that I will ever receive extra support. I mean, I get up and go to work, so why do I deserve any help?

I chased my claim last week, not by actually running after it, but by picking up the telephone and calling the DWP. After fifteen minutes, I was told that my claim had been received (they do not send acknowledgments or holding letters), and it had been forwarded to ATOS to process. It was forwarded to ATOS on the 26 September. Helpfully, I was told that this was a long time ago and it should have been processed by now, for this process should take between 6-8 weeks. I was then given a schpeel about the various stages of making a claim, and I was told that they may contact my Medically Trained People (paraphrasing) to see if I am truthful (paraphrasing again). That was exactly the same information I was given in September, and given the fact I had to provide contact details, I found this statement outrageously shocking. Oh, and I may be asked to attend a physical assessment. The DWP could not help me further, so I was given the telephone number of ATOS, to hasten a response directly.

Twenty minutes later, I spoke to a lady at ATOS, who informed me that they were in fact in receipt of my claim, and I needed to be aware that when my claim is being investigated, my Medically Trained People will be contacted and I may be asked to attend a physical assessment. I asked why it was taking so long, in my polite voice, stating the timescales I had just been given by the DWP, to which the the lady became agitated. According to her, the DWP had no right to say that to me, indeed, the DWP is to blame for the whole thing, because they underestimated the number of PIP claims to be processed when they introduced the new benefit, and presumably, contracted out the service. The lady was mad. I feel I calmed her down when I said “okay”. She then decided to tell me that when my claim is processed, I should expect for my Medically Trained People to be contacted and said I may be required to attend a physical assessment. It was good to know, because I had forgotten. We finished the conversation with me being told that there is no timescale by which my claim needs to be processed, when it is, I’ll be contacted by the post.

This is my first experience of the UK benefits system. I am very impressed by it.

I just know that when I finally receive the letter, the dog will have eaten it before I have a chance to read it.

EJB x

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