I am writing this letter on behalf of my brother, Robert Baker, who received a $980.80 cheque last week from the Rainy Day Fund, payable to Hydro Quebec. Our family would like to express our sincere gratitude to the Shine through the Rain Foundation for this financial assistance. I would also like to provide you with a summary of my brother’s story, and hope that it may assist you in your fundraising efforts to help other families.
By way of introduction, Robert is a 63 year old professional Engineer who spent most of his career working on water resource management projects, which were funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. His contracts were generally for overseas projects that were located in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. In 2010, while working in Afghanistan, Robert contracted hepatitis and, as a result, had to return home for medical care. As a result of this illness, Robert was unable to work in 2011. It is noteworthy that
my brother has suffered from severe clinical depression from the time he was a young adult but, up until 2011, his depression was fairly well managed with medication.
In 2011, in addition to recovering from hepatitis, and dealing with resultant worsening depression, Robert and his wife divorced and he lost custody of his son. These combined events sent my brother into a downwards spiral of refractory depression from which he has been unable, to this day, to recover, even with extensive electroconvulsive therapy (2015). Effectively, Robert has been unable to work since 2011 and, since he had no medical insurance, has had to use his modest life savings (including his RRSPs) in order to survive. By 2016 his personal finances had been completely depleted. He was, however, unable mentally to comprehend the consequences of unpaid taxes, bills etc, and so the taxes and bills went unpaid and his debt and associated interest accumulated. I became aware of his financial situation in 2016 and have been using my own funds in order to try to clear his debts and, together with my husband, applied to the government for some financial assistance on Robert’s behalf.
In late 2016, Robert was approved for permanent disability by Retraite Quebec and has been receiving a disability pension, which amounts to $11,418.84 per year, since then. As can be seen in the attached summary, Robert’s income does not cover his expenses. My brother lives modestly but even with all the cost-cutting measures he takes, his expenses exceed his income by roughly $5,000 per year. We have been doing our best to help out so that he does not lose his dwelling, our family home, which was built by our forebears in 1847 and has been occupied by family ever since.
Over the course of the past several years Robert had been complaining about back pain. Investigations by his doctor were negative and his pain was attributed to secondary effects of depression. Even his immediate family thought that his pain was a direct result of his depression, lack of exercise and spending so much time sleeping. In the middle of June last year (2017), Robert phoned us late one night and asked that my husband Tony take him to our local hospital. He was in excruciating pain and could barely walk. He sat for several hours in triage, was eventually seen by a doctor, had X-rays taken of his lower back, which were negative, and was sent home.
Less than 2 weeks later, Robert phoned my husband asking to be taken to hospital once again. This time, he refused triage and burst into the emergency ward where a sympathetic young doctor ordered more X-rays. This time the X-rays were taken of the whole back and it was discovered that vertebrae 3, 5 and 9 were essentially missing. Robert had been walking around with what was equivalent to a broken back! For this emergency situation he was immediately transferred to the Centre Hospitalier de Universite de Sherbrooke (CHUS), where he was diagnosed with advanced and aggressive Multiple Myeloma. Robert underwent surgery on July 13th and had two metal plates implanted to stabilize his spine. Thus began Robert’s journey of life battling aggressive cancer in addition to debilitating depression.
A week after Robert’s diagnosis and surgery, my husband Tony was diagnosed with a rapidly growing squamous cell carcinoma of the parotid gland. He was referred to the Centre Hospitalier de Universite de Montreal (CHUM) and underwent surgery on August 14th. As the primary caregiver for both, I now had a brother who had to have treatments at the hospital in Sherbrooke and my husband recuperating from surgery in Montreal. Both hospitals are a minimum of one and a half hours drive from our home, in opposite directions.
This past fall, I had to take my husband to the CHUM to undergo 30 radiation therapy treatments. Additional trips were required for follow-up CT scans, PET scans and alternating appointments with his surgeon and radiation oncologist. In parallel with this, I took Robert to more than 50 appointments for weekly radiation and/or chemotherapy and also bisphosphonate treatments, blood tests, plasma cell counts and collections, etc.
As you can imagine, all of the above has placed considerable physical, emotional and financial strain on all of us. My husband and I are both retired and on fixed government pension incomes. Although we have managed so far, we have had to use our own retirement savings in order to support my brother, pay his taxes and bills, provide food and groceries etc and to cover the cost of travel expenses between the two hospitals. Unfortunately, this financial support is just not sustainable. As my brother’s disability pension does not cover his expenses and added costs associated with his illness, we are at a loss as to how we will financially support him for the next two years until he qualifies for OAS and the guaranteed income supplement.
This coming week Robert will be admitted to the CHUS’s hemato-oncology unit for a stem cell transplant. He will be isolated in a room specially equipped for stem cell transplant patients (a positive pressure room with its own air filtration system to prevent any contamination) and will be kept there for 25 to 30 days while his immune system recuperates. While he is hospitalized, his home will have to be thoroughly sanitized in order to prevent secondary infection when he returns home.
Fortunately, there is also good news: last week we learned that the results of over 30 samples taken from adjoining tissues and lymph nodes collected from my husband Tony during the surgery, as well as results from the latest CT scan following intensive radiation therapy, were all negative and to date he is cancer free. The second piece of good news was that the Rainy Day Fund would pay Robert’s outstanding Hydro bill, which we were not in the financial position to cover. I do not know how we will manage until Robert is 65 but we hope to be able to have the continued support from selfless organizations such as the Shine through the Rain Foundation.