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I was digging in the ground, crying

The League Against Cancer helps people overcome cancer-related depression.

Marián Božík (Source: Sme)

Marián Božík has never liked working in his garden, but six years ago he made sure that no tiles remained.

“I was digging in the ground and tears were streaming down my face,” Božík told The Slovak Spectator.

He learned about his illness by coincidence. His father refused to take a test for colon cancer so he decided to test himself instead of throwing it away. The test came up positive and a doctor then confirmed that Božík had cancer. He was 48-years old at the time. Though the treatment was successful, Božík is still battling a fear that the tumor will return.

Božík did not have to deal with financial problems, but many families are not so lucky. Around 90 percent of all families with a member suffering from cancer fall into debt because of it, according to a 2015 survey on 723 such families conducted by the Dobrý anjel (Good Angel) NGO that helps people in need.

František Mindár from the town of Nemšová, was doing business in the building industry. As the head of a 5-member family, he was not able to pay taxes and levies because his buyers were not paying him. At that time, his 16-year-old son Ferko had to have his leg with a cancerous tumor amputated.

Both Božík and Mindár became clients of the League Against Cancer (LPR), an NGO providing services to people living with cancer. Mindár was able to stay in Bratislava while his son was in hospital there, despite not having any money for living expenses. Božík used socialising services provided by the league to overcome his anxiety.

The League against Cancer organised Daffodil Day on April 7, a public fundraising event the resulting resources of which are to be spent on above-standard care for cancer patients, support groups for patients, but also on health facilities.

“It is lamentable that the state is not able to secure technology for its hospitals, and charity has to help it,” Ľudmila Kolesárová of the Good Angel told The Slovak Spectator.

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Dealing with cancer

Božík has a comfortable two-storey house in the town of Nové Mesto nad Váhom. He enjoys manual work, thus visitors can find his wood carvings and baskets all around the place. Six years ago, his home became a cage in which he was wandering alone from room to room and looking for some distraction.

While he was planning the surgery his wife and daughter were abroad and his son was at work. In order to not focus on the surgery he passed the time working in his garden.

“I was thinking about my death,” Božík said. “It was the worst week of my life.”

Even after a successful surgery he remained lethargic until he joined an online discussion group with other cancer patients and participated in some socialising activities of LPR. In particular he enjoyed the week-long leave with other patients.

Clients of LPR came to know each other during such events by sharing their fears and experiences. Approached patients agree that they created long-term friendships thanks to the league.

“It is important for oncology patients to avoid loneliness and have people around willing to listen and help,” LPR spokesperson Natália Špesová told The Slovak Spectator.

This is important even after they recover, according to Katarína Žúžiová from Bratislava who won her fight with lymphoid nodule cancer in 2010, but still fears that it could return.

“When I have a cough and can’t sleep the whole night I can call my friend and she will cheer me up,” Žúžiová told The Slovak Spectator.

The fear is visible particularly in waiting rooms of oncology clinics, according to Božík.

“One cured woman was there shaking and wasn’t able to get up from the chair,” Božík said. “We had to accompany her to the doctor.”

Read also: Read also:Health bosses scramble to reduce damage over planned savings

Affecting finances

Aside from psychological problems, cancer also puts financial pressure on families especially when children have it, according to the Good Angel organisation.

Patients have to visit a doctor around five times per month and there are only three children's oncology clinics in Slovakia — in Bratislava, Košice and Banská Bystrica. Therefore, families have to travel 600 kilometres per month on average just to visit doctors. This often results in one parent losing their job, which has happened to 40 percent of families approached by Good Angel.

Mindár has a similar experience as he has to travel 150 kilometres to the clinic in Bratislava with his son. He was trying to earn some money to pay his debts, but his employer fired him because he was absent too often.

“I wasn’t able to compensate my missing hours,” Mindár told The Slovak Spectator.

He then found a job with more flexible working time but another problem occurred. The labour office refused to give him €33 as a contribution for travelling expenses in 2016 because an assessment physician stated that his son could use public transportation even with one leg and crutches.

The office changed the decision only after media reported on the case.

Such cases are not rare because assessment physicians do not see patients they decide about or they have to refuse to give contributions because of lack of money. This can put even more stress on a family battling cancer, according to Kolesárová.

“People who should focus solely on treatment, in addition have to fight with the state,” Kolesárová said.

Mindár agrees adding that without material help from NGOs it would be difficult for him to survive.

“To buy a daffodil or contribute in any way to oncology patients is meaningful,” Mindár said. “The state doesn’t care about people like us and that money helps us a lot.”

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