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MANDEL

Tweed mom must battle Ottawa — and cancer

By Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun

 Kristy Thrasher-Emigh (AMBER VAN WORT, QMI Agency)

Kristy Thrasher-Emigh (AMBER VAN WORT, QMI Agency)

Kristy Thrasher-Emigh should be fighting her cancer, not her government.

Instead, while the Tweed mom is undergoing chemotherapy for an aggressive breast cancer and taking care of her 16-month-old daughter, she is also battling to get the 15 weeks of unemployment insurance sick benefits she needs to pay her family’s bills.

But Ottawa has denied her claim. Even though she has worked her entire adult life up until her devastating diagnosis, paying into the system since she was 18, she has only worked 403 hours since her maternity leave ended in February — which is 197 shy of the 600 hours she needs to qualify.

“I had to deal with losing my breast and then I have to worry about finances,” says the astounded 35-year-old. “Nobody really has answers for me. I’m battling it all on my own.”

What makes this all even more ridiculous is that had she been diagnosed while she was actually on her mat leave — and not three months later — she would have been eligible for the sick benefits. To quote the PR bumf sent by the ministry when asked about her predicament: “Last March, our government introduced the Helping Families in Need Act to make EI more flexible for parents when they need it most, allowing them to qualify for sickness benefits if they fall ill or are injured while receiving EI parental benefits.”

Which is all well and good — but why not help someone who falls ill a short time after their maternity leave ends? What’s the difference?

Shamefully, there was no answer to that question.

This is hardly a woman trying to take advantage. For nine years, Thrasher-Emigh worked at the Pepsi plant in Trenton until it shut down. She then went back to school to train as a dental assistant and has worked in that job for four years. On March 18, 2012, she and her husband welcomed their first child, Zoey. After her year-long mat leave, she returned to work in February.

And then this young family was struck with news they could never imagine. In late March, Thrasher-Emigh discovered a lump in her breast and in May, it was confirmed to be cancer. She had to leave her job so she could have an immediate mastectomy and has just finished the first of six gruelling courses of chemo. She is also scheduled to have radiation treatment and genetic testing to see if her other breast must be removed.

“I have a long road ahead of me,” she explained.

So this is the last thing she should have to worry about. Money is tight — her husband, Mike, is a factory worker and they have always relied on their two incomes. “I’ve never been one to milk the system,” she insists. “I’ve gotten unemployment twice, once when my plant went under and once when I had a baby. Now when I really need them, they’re not there. I didn’t choose to be sick. I’ve always worked.”

Now, instead of concentrating on fighting her disease, she is plagued with worry. “Am I going to have a roof over my head? Am I going to lose everything because I have cancer and I have no money coming in?”

On Facebook, Thrasher-Emigh’s friend Cheryl Levesque has created a Support And Follow Kristy page and launched a trust fund at a local TD bank. Friends and businesses have planned fundraisers to help her get through. “My community has been outstanding,” the grateful mom says. “But EI should step up.”

She has appealed their decision and it should go to a hearing. But she’s worried that by that time, she will be feeling the full effects of her chemotherapy and might be too weak to argue her case. “What if I’m too sick to go to the tribunal? I’m nervous because I don’t know how long it will take.”

Her MP has told her there is nothing he can do but pass on her appeal paperwork. So the sick young mom will wait, while the bills pile up and the stress builds. “At this point, I’m trying to have good days that I can spend with my family, not fighting with the government. I don’t know how much energy I’m going to have to pursue this.”

Read Mandel Wednesday through Saturday.

 


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