LONDON, Ont. - The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is urging politicians of all stripes to keep Canadians living with cancer top of mind in the upcoming election.

London resident Cindy Barnes knows all too well the struggles a cancer patient has to endure during and after treatment.

Barnes was diagnosed with stage three tonsil cancer in 2017. She would require 35 radiation treatments and five rounds of chemotherapy.

After completing her treatment, she was still trying to recover from the effects of radiation. During this difficult time, she says she did not have energy to return to work, but because she had no benefits, she was out of luck.

Now, Barnes advocates for an extension of the EI Sickness Benefit so that more Canadians can receive the time off they need to navigate the life-changing reality of a cancer diagnosis.

“I stress the importance of extending the sickness benefits, up to 24 weeks or beyond, because a person doesn’t need to use their mental or physical energy to worry about how they’re going to get to their appointments, or how they’re going to pay for their medication. They need to have their energy to focus on survival,” says Barnes.

CCS says one in two Canadians is expected to be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

And by 2030, the number of cancer cases in Canada is expected to be 40 per cent higher than it was in 2015, driven largely by our aging and growing population.

Shawn Chirrey, the senior manager of analysis at CCS says the current benefits simply aren’t enough because the length of treatment and recovery varies depending on the cancer diagnosis.

“With breast cancer, 25-36 weeks is the average time for treatment and recovery. And for colon cancer it’s 37 weeks. So currently at 15 weeks we know that it’s not meeting the needs of patients experiencing those cancers.”

CCS says while those living with cancer are given 15 weeks off work to undergo treatment, their caregivers can take 26 weeks off – nearly three months more than those actually living with cancer.

Extension to the sickness benefits is just one of three priorities that the CCS is calling on all political party leaders to support.

They’d like to see tobacco companies being held accountable, requiring them to pay Health Canada $66 million annually to recover the cost of programs to reduce tobacco use.

And they want to close the gaps in coverage for take-home cancer drugs so that all Canadians can have equal access to them.

“In Western Provinces and Quebec, you have access to take- home cancer drugs, but if you live in Ontario or Atlantic Provinces, those drugs are not covered,” Chirrey says.

Although Cindy is now two years cancer-free, she’d like to see the changes made so that others won’t have to suffer financially during the most difficult time in their life.

“My goal is to help future patients. That’s my goal. My journey is finished. I am now doing this for the people beyond me.”