Monday, January 6, 2014

The Cancer Blog: Recovery Month 6

On Wellness

Today is Day 385 since I have been diagnosed with cancer, and Day 175 living with chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), a side-effect of chemo treatment.

Important Personal Dates:
Dec. 18th, 2012: Diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer.
Dec. 20th, 2012: Operation to successfully remove orange-sized tumor—six-day stay in hospital.
Feb. 12th, 2013: Started chemotherapy.
July 15th, 2013: Ended chemo early with onset of CIPN.
Sept. 19th, 2013: CT scan is clear, thus officially cancer-free.

Kafka's Rules

“In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.”
Albert Einstein

It has wisely been said that one ought to pick his battles, that is, to know when to fight for a cause or an issue. I raise this dictum in light of my battle (of documents and words) with Ontario's disability body over my application for a disability pension. Anyone who has dealt with any level of government will quickly find out how the officials are stickers for rules and regulations, particularly if it requires a dispensing of funds to a taxpayer. Laws are good and necessary for society and civilization, making order out of disorder. Most people are law-abiding and agree with its tenets, not ever questioning its fairness. 

That is, until the law affects you in a way that you consider unfair, unjust, inhumane. Then the questions begin. Here's my case, the laws behind it and what I need consider.

On April 26th, 2013, I applied to my provincial government (Ontario) for a temporary disability pension, based on my diagnosis of colorectal cancer. One of their requirements was that I also had apply to my previous provincial government (Quebec) where I had made most of my pension contributions. The Quebec government replied (on July 2nd), saying since I was no longer a resident of Quebec, I was not eligible; they forwarded my file to Ottawa for a federal disability pension.

I received a reply a few months later (on November 4th, 2013), first a phone call and then an official letter of denial (from Service Canada) to my application. Here are the salient and relevant points from said letter:
You must have a disability that is both severe and prolonged. Severe means that you have a mental or physical disability that regularly stops you from doing any type of work (full-time, part-time or seasonal), not just the work you usually do. Prolonged means that your disability is likely to be long term and of indefinite duration, or is likely to result in death.
Nothing more needs to be said about this letter; its implications and the type of thought that went into its construct is clear enough. For one, if I were near death I would be eligible for a few months of federal disability payments. I am sorry, feds, but I am very much alive and plan to stay that way for as long as I can.

As for my original (yet current) application to Ontario's disability body, it was rejected on May 24th, 2013; I immediately submitted it for an internal review, which resulted in nothing new; the original decision still stands. On September 25th, I received a letter saying that I have a formal hearing with the Social Benefits Tribunal scheduled for March 20th, 2014, almost a year after my original application; this becomes the last stop of the proverbial quest to garner some deserved government benefits. Does it matter that I have been working since I was sixteen (part-time as a student) and making contributions to my pension plan for 40 years? I have come to understand that governments, no matter the political affiliation, do not genuinely care about fairness; they care only about policies they have written and enacted into law.

One citizen's concern or needs has no influence on their thinking, and thus on their actions. Bureaucrats likely have limited powers to help. they themselves locked in to a policy and reams of directives. You get the picture; it's not a pretty one by any means. Anyone who has engaged the government over the years understands this; some continue the battle, but many understandably give up. their resources limited and no match to the limitless resources of the government.

So, is this a case where I ought to follow the words of Einstein? Is this a matter of justice, albeit on a personal scale? My lawyer does not think my case is that strong, despite what I have gone through, basing her views on a legal or administrative technicality: Since I asked for for an internal review of the application before I had neuropathy, there was then "no change in my condition." It does not matter to the law, or moreover its interpreters, that the neuropathy was a direct result of the chemotherapy the nurses were putting into my body to treat my colon cancer.

This logic, this rational argument is lost on them. “This is the law,” she says with the confidence of someone who knows the law and the way such tribunals typically work. Even so, she’ll know more after reviewing what information my medical oncologist submits to her. My hearing is scheduled for March 20th, 2014.  If I win, the government is obligated to pay me from the date I originally filed my application (an estimated $11,000); if I lose or drop the case I receive nothing.

Here are my options, or at least on how I view them. 1) Drop the original case, if only to save myself stress and the expenditure of energy; 2) Continue no matter what the odds might be; 3) Re-apply on the basis of my latest condition, the neuropathy, which would begin the whole long process once again. Needless to say, I am tired and do not hold much hope of a positive outcome: that my only gain will be a giant-sized headache and another (unneeded) lesson in the futility of engaging government bureaucracy. Welcome to the Kafkaesque world of Canadian bureaucracy.

On a positive note, I would like to publicly acknowledge a few individuals who generously helped my family with tzedakah (צדקה‎) when we recently needed such aid: Prof. George Jochnowitz (and his wife); Mr. Mark O'Brien (and his wife); Mr. Richard Benning and my two brothers, Mr. Jacob Greenbaum and Mr. Brian Greenbaum. Once again, thank you; your generosity is noted and greatly appreciated.

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