As Caroline Pagalday sat with her 21-year-old son Rhys, chemotherapy pumping through his body, the phone calls wouldn't stop. With only months to live, Rhys was expected to go job hunting or his Centrelink support payment would be cut-off.
On Monday, Rhys's Newstart and partial youth disability pension were blocked for the third time for failing to show up to an interview because he was receiving radiation therapy to control his excruciating pain.
After months of being hounded and harassed, Mrs Pagalday said, she finally broke down.
"I just cried and cried," Ms Pagalday said. "I've had a lot of days where I think 'Oh gosh, how am I going to deal with this? I don't know how long I have left with him, but this was the final straw," she said.
Mrs Pagalday could not fathom why the payments were stripped away, or why he was expected spend his final months alive trying to get a job.
"That money is for Rhys to spend time with his friends, or save for whatever he wants ??? he has lost so much. So much independence has been ripped from him," she said.
Rhys was diagnosed with the aggressive bone cancer Ewing's sarcoma in 2014 as he prepared for his HSC.
The Sydney schoolboy underwent six months of chemotherapy at Chris O'Brien Lifehouse and surgeons removed the 10cm tumour bulging from his pelvis. After eight weeks in hospital lying flat on his back and another round of chemo, Rhys learnt to walk again.
His family were optimistic. Rhys couldn't wait to get back to normalcy. He wanted to work, and after gruelling treatment he needed some help. He was put on Newstart and a youth disability pension, totalling $425 a fortnight.
But the cancer came back. Immunotherapy treatment, which cost his family more than $10,000, seemed to help for a while, but ultimately failed. In December, Rhys deteriorated rapidly with his last chance of survival. He was admitted to Lifehouse and his treatment team believe he only has months to live.
As Rhys underwent palliative care, Mrs Pagalday shielded Rhys from the phone calls, letters and demands that he turn up for appointments with Max Employment, the company contracted by the government to manage employment services for people who receive Centrelink disability payments.
Parent company Max Solutions holds state and government contracts worth more than $1 billion.
"I was in shock. How could they have no empathy or compassion or respect for what Rhys is going through?" Mrs Pagalday said. "It is just so wrong."
With every doctor's certificate she sent to Centrelink, Rhys was given a reprieve from the job interviews, meetings and work he was expected to do in exchange for the payments.
Rhys's deterioration and his inability to work appeared to raise no flags with Max Employment or Centrelink. Mrs Pagalday said no one suggested that Rhys could be eligible for a full disability pension.
"They should have realised Rhys should never have been expected to work," Mrs Pagalday said.
It was only when a social worker at Lifehouse discovered the erroneous categorisation that they lodged an application for a full disability pension.
During one chemotherapy session, Rhys's Max Employment case worker called her multiple times. In frustration, a Lifehouse senior nurse faxed a medical certificate to the agency.
But Mrs Pagalday said she was told the certificate was not valid because it was not a designated Centrelink form.
A Max Employment spokesperson said Rhys' case manager had since left the company.
"We absolutely should have been more compassionate," Max Solutions managing director Deborah Homewood told ABC radio program Hack.
A Facebook post by Rhys's sister on Tuesday was the first time Max Employment were alerted to the problem, the spokesperson said.
Max Employment rejected the claim that their employee harassed Mrs Pagalday with phone calls, saying only five calls from the caseworker to Mrs Pagalday had been logged.
Mrs Pagalday said she was contacted by Max Employment on Wednesday and the company's apologies have been heartfelt and much appreciated.
A spokesperson for Lifehouse said they had seen a worrying trend in patients getting caught up in the bureaucracy of accessing Centrelink support payments.
"We have noticed a lack of understanding and clarity around the requirements relating to benefits that has resulted in delays or lack of payments to vulnerable families at such a distressing time."
A Department of Human Services general manager in community engagement Hank Jongen said the department was investigating the matter to ensure Rhys recieved the support he was eligible for.
Rhys' payments have now been reinstated.
"Where the medical evidence is clear a person has a terminal illness, DSP claims are processed by the Department as a matter of priority. While the DSP claim is being processed other income support is available, such as Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance, with an exemption from looking for work," he said.
Max Solutions did not respond to Fairfax Media's repeated requests for a response by deadline.