The New Paper Reports On A Clean Breast Of It And My Policy Woes

The New Paper's report today, Tuesday 31 August 2010

Shree Ann Mathavan of The New Paper came to visit me yesterday and we had a nice chat about my insurance policies (among other things — she is a lovely girl and a hardworking journalist).

Her story came out in today’s New Paper and I felt it was a really fair and clear report of what happened. I was dreading a super-sensationalist header like “She Loses A Breast… And They Won’t Pay!” LOL!

Shree Ann was really respectful of my reasons for talking about this — it is not to complain that Prudential bullied me (which they did not, a contract is a contract) — but to alert other women who might be in the process of buying a policy, or may not have taken a look at her existing policies to make sure her coverage is full. Hence her report came out as such.

I’ve received emails, calls and comments to this blog — financial advisers who very kindly explain how it works (I just wish it was BEFORE not AFTER, but thank you all), women who have been through the same experience, and women who never even realised hospitalisation and critical illness policies are two different policies! So it only confirms that there is definitely a gap in the information that women need to have about their health insurance.

I am also happy to hear from friends who have bought the women’s only policies from AIA, Prudential or Great Eastern, and the GE Early Payout Critical Care, and were covered when the need arose. Happy!

Today, for once, I feel like there is something worthwhile that has come out of my cancer experience.

Happy!

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Speak To The Press: Time For A Change In Critical Illness/Crisis Cover Policies

My post from two days ago (Sh*t There’s A Hole In My Coverage. Make That A Manhole.) caught the attention of many concerned friends and other netizens, some of whom were newspaper journalists.

I am getting calls from these journalists now, who are going to write stories on inadequate illness insurance coverage.

I just want to clarify a few points:

1. I only mentioned Prudential because for some reason, my Critical Illness/Crisis Cover plans all happened to be under Prudential. I’ve been told the same exclusions for DCIS are “standard” across all insurance companies. Why? I would like to know. The best explanation I’ve been given is, my chances of survival from DCIS after a mastectomy are high and therefore it’s not a critical illness. I would need to have a much later stage of cancer to qualify. Sick, but that’s what the explanation is. I will accept it if it’s called “critical illness” then, but “crisis cover”? Is fighting malignant cancer cells in my breast not a crisis? Or are they saying “crisis” also means I have to be on my deathbed?

2. Am I hoping Prudential would re-consider my claim? I am not sure. I think I would be happy if Prudential came back to me with a solution, like what riders I could buy to protect myself in case I get hit with DCIS breast cancer again. I don’t have much money to buy a new policy but if a rider can be included for $100-$200 a year, I will pay that to make sure my breast cancer coverage is hole-proof.

3. Not all insurance companies are evil, not all policies are a hoax. I received fantastic and fast payouts from Aviva and MSIG, with whom I have Medishield Plus policy and a hospitalisation policy. I am very grateful for their swift action, the money has come in handy to pay for my $2000 PET scan and other hospital fees.

4. Why would I go public with my critical illness/crisis cover beef? I’ll be honest, it’s not an easy decision. Who wants to trumpet to the world that she’s lost a breast and now just discovered she can’t claim payout from her 3 critical illness/crisis cover policies? Worse, as someone pointed out to me, now, if I want to buy a new policy/rider to cover myself for DCIS, Prudential might tell me to get lost.

But after speaking with Mr Threez, and praying — God led me to Philippians 2:4. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Just that one verse, just as I was falling asleep last night wondering if I should talk to the press — the answer is yes, I must open my mouth about this, I must fight, or other women will suffer like me. Worse, if nothing changes in insurance coverage of illnesses because I fail to speak up, my children may suffer like me.

What I would like to see is more honesty and real care coming from insurance companies. The only reason why I bought insurance in the first place was because when I was 19, my mother had breast cancer. I wanted to make sure that I would be able to take time to recover should it happen to me. Now that is HAS happened, and my insurance policy of 21 years that I bought to make sure I would be protected HAS ACTUALLY FAILED ME AFTER 21 YEARS… I admit, I am more than a little angry. I feel like I’ve been taken for a ride for two whole decades. Perhaps it’s time to cut my losses on this one, and buy a new policy that gives me proper coverage.

I may not gain from this episode but my prayer is that many women who read this will make sure that their policies are not flawed like mine. What’s the point of having multiple policies covering you for critical illness when not one of them cover you for early stage cancer?

I also pray by the time my children have to buy their insurance plans, DCIS, cervical dysplasia CIN-1, 2 and 3, hyperkeratoses, prostate cancers T1a, T1b, Chronic Lymphocytic leukaemia before Stage 3 — and all those exclusions will be included.

FACT REMAINS: Cancer is cancer whether it is Stage 0 or Stage 4. I lost a breast just as a woman having stage 3 or 4 cancer might. A cervical cancer patient in early stages has to go for treatment just like one who is facing later stage cervical cancer. We suffer the same losses, only varying in degree.

If you, Prudential, AIA, Great Eastern, AXA, Aviva etc, cannot change your critical illness policies (and I don’t really see why not), then give us affordable alternatives (riders, cancer-specific plans), and train your agents to pay more attention to women (and men) with a family history of cancer.

That is all I am asking. That this unacceptable situation of once-sold-I-wash-my-hands changes now.

Sh*t, There’s A Hole In My Coverage. Make That A Manhole.

Today is probably a really bad day to be blogging because I’ve got me a major case of the blues. So forgive me if this sounds super-ranty, because I am super-pissed.

This sort of fury often brought on by finance-related matters. Yesterday I received a letter from Prudential, with whom I spend nearly $1,000 every month, telling me that I don’t have cancer.

Yep, you read it right. Apparently, according to the experts at Prudential, I lost a breast and went through a 12 hour surgery for… not cancer!

Blows your mind, huh? I’m still trying to find pieces of my brain under the couch after this staggering news.

Truth is, three of my many Prudential policies cover me for critical illness. However, when I signed with my agents, I never imagined that cancer at Stage 0 would be considered by my insurance company that I “do not have cancer”. In fact, there is every chance a woman buying a life plan with critical illness coverage has NO IDEA there is a stage called DCIS, and that her insurance company does not consider it cancer.

So my “imaginary cancer” won’t allow me to claim any of the $200,000 (or more) that my critical illness plans entitle me to.

Please, if you are a woman reading this, go and see your insurance agent and tell him/her/it that you want coverage for EARLY STAGE CANCERS. Make sure your policy document states that you will get 25% or however much for ductal carcinomas-in-situ or Stage 0 breast cancer. To my understanding these are the 2 policies that offer them now:

1. Great Eastern’s PinkLife will pay out 25% of your sum assured for carcinomas-in-situ. Not great an exchange for a breast but at least it’s not nothing. If I had bought that instead I would have $50,000 to allow me to take a break from work for some months, while still being able to pay my monthly bills and kids’ tuition fees and groceries…

2. AIA’s Complete Critical Illness Cover pays out 25% on early critical illnesses (I am assuming DCIS breast cancer is one of these).

Please please please, I beg you, don’t get royally scr*wed like me. Make sure your critical illness plan actually covers you, and you are not just happily giving your money away to insurance companies for their CEOs to buy 10 luxury holiday homes across the world.

Do not be a sucker like me. Please.

Call your insurance agent or financial planner today and make sure, by hook or by crook, you are covered by some rider, anything, for early stage cancers.

I’ve been researching cases of insurance companies who don’t pay out for DCIS breast cancers. Looks like it’s a worldwide disease. The insurance companies are the disease, I mean.

I lost a breast to this threat.
My histological report finds the cancer cells ARE malignant and aggressive, and most certainly were life-threatening — or I wouldn’t have needed the mastectomy.
I just happened to discover it before it became an uncontrollable growth.

Tell me how this is not cancer.

In my Googling I found this BBC clip. It makes me so, so sad that all around the world, women like me are shortchanged by insurance policies that they pay through the nose for.

I have paid close to $32,000 for one policy and over $25,000 for the other.

This clause in Critical Illness contracts NEEDS TO CHANGE. DCIS is cancer (and in my case, malignant) and it should be awarded accordingly and automatically. Sadly, Prudential covered its backside in its small print, which I had no understanding of. It makes me sad that they expect me to have Stage 1, or 2, or 3 or terminal cancer and chemo and radiation before I qualify to make a claim. Losing a breast is forever. Surely that must count for something.

For women in their 20s or 30s reading this — if you have had a grandmother, mother, sister, aunt, female cousin contract breast cancer, make sure you get yourself proper coverage (see box above).

A close friend who is a decorated journalist was horrified to hear it was likely I could not make a claim on my critical illness plans. “They should change that,” he said (after uttering “Wah lau eh, sh*t!”). “I can write a story on that.”

He should. I think I will be calling him soon. Also I am relooking at my Prudential policies now — maybe it’s not worthwhile carrying on. I should get my money back. Pity the surrender value is so pathetic. Bet that CEO already bought his 11th luxury holiday home.

Never mind, lessons learned. READ THE SMALL PRINT, AND FIND OUT WHAT THE EXCLUSIONS MEAN.

So, I guess I have no choice but to haul my sorry ass back to work.

Booklist For Speedy Recovery (aka “I Want To Be James Patterson”)

I stopped reading fiction for so many years. From 2003 to 2009 I read nothing but autobiographies and other non-fiction books, a majority of them Christian books.

But last year I decided I want to start writing fiction. In fact I haven’t written anything in the creative writing realm for a long, long time and the only chances I get are for church drama (and they make me so happy).

So I started reading again, and have found pulp fiction such a wonderful escapade.

I have discovered (drumroll) James Patterson!

His name is one of those that you will see in every airport in the world (yes even Terengganu). I’d never touched a Patterson because I had sampled Patricia Cornwell (a real life forensic scientist) and found her writing clumsy even though her plots are quite gripping. The last pulp author I read was Thomas Harris (Silence Of The Lambs) whom I loved until Hannibal happened (what the…).

I bought Patterson’s 5th Horseman by accident. It was going for $10 at SPC when I went to get some gas, and I found some books for the kids at the same time at discounted prices on a rack, so I picked it up. I thought it might be entertaining toilet reading, and started the book at 8pm that night after dinner.

I found myself awake at 1am finishing it that very night.

Uh-oh, Threez had found herself a new drug: James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series! Within the next 2 months I finished the first eight in the series, and I’m waiting for the pocket-size version of 9th Judgment (so my Pattersons will look neater on my bookshelf. Sorry, I’m anal that way.) It’s the latest so I can only find the hardcover and the large format so far.

The Women’s Murder Club centres around San Franciscan homicide detective Lindsay Boxer and her three best friends: medical examiner Claire Washburn, crime reporter Cindy Thomas and lawyer Yuki Castellano. The “club” was unofficially formed to get the women get together on their girls’ nights out, drink margaritas, eat chimichangas and talk about Lindsay’s cases and villains, which span psychotic rich high school kids who murder their parents and a psychotic novelist that frames his wife to frame him for a series of couple murders, just so he can create the ultimate “twist in the tale”.

Patterson’s style is fast-moving and fun. He doesn’t write long chapters — they are 4, 5 pages long and there are 80, 90 of them in a book. There are many crime/thriller writers out there — Patricia Cornwell (I only read 1 book of hers), Michael Connolly (the protagonist is far too serious), Robert Ludlum (the print is too small) — but Patterson’s easy style and clever plots (even the predictable ones are told with such a rollicking sense of fun) are irresistible. I’m happy that he is pulp fiction’s most prolific money earners, with something like three or four books out a year (or more). Plus, he’s appeared on Castle playing himself talking about writing crime novels.

I totally want to be James Patterson. That is my secret aim in life. Now not so secret anymore. I want to write books like I pee. I’m sure my soul has been merrily cured by the worlds he has created, and the characters who I can imagine meeting and sharing a beer with, if I happened to head down to that restaurant the same night as the Women’s Murder Club.

I’ve asked myself why I get such a kick out of reading the Women’s Murder Club, and when the answer came, I startled myself: the series is like Nancy Drew for grown-ups girls!

Since I have run out of pocket-sized Women’s Murder Clubs, I have started reading some of Patterson’s other books. He is also the author of made-into-movies titles like Kissed The Girls and Along Came A Spider.

I just finished Run For Your Life, a hilarious yet exciting novel based on an Irish New York cop Michael Bennett, who is a widow with 10 adopted children! Secondary characters include a young Irish nanny who sacrificially takes care of his brood, and his grandfather Seamus who is now a Catholic priest with a penchant for whiskey. Michael Bennett (with his funny kids) is such an appealing character there’s talk it’s going to be a TV series soon by the creators of CSI.

Like I said, I want to be James Patterson.

Highly Recommended:

1. 1st To Die (Women’s Murder Club). Someone’s going around killing brides and grooms on their wedding or honeymoon. Spooky!

2. 2nd Chance (WMC). A killer is going around murdering family members of police officers. Lindsay finds herself a target!

3. 3rd Degree (WMC). Terrorists strike! A group of new radicals are committing acts of terrorism, including blowing up a house with a family inside.

3. 4th of July (WMC). Lindsay is accused of police brutality when she shoots a pair of gun-toting teens. She is forced to take a break, but finds herself investigating the murders of couples who have mysterious holes drilled through their walls.

4. 7th Heaven (WMC). The body of a sick young man disappears, the scion of a rich and famous family. A young prostitute comes forward to admit her role in his “murder”. Major twist in the tale!

5. Run For Your Life (Michael Bennett). A well-dressed man is going around New York killing people who work in high-end establishments. Amidst a vomiting virus that’s turning his household of 10 kids upside down, Detective Michael Bennett, a trained hostage negotiator and police detective, tracks down this mysterious Gucci’d up killer.

You can get your Pattersons at Borders, but if you’re lazy or just prefer online shopping, there’s always Kinokuniya’s Bookweb. Or of course, Amazon.

Get Up And Walk, Sista!

It’s nearly two months since my surgery. Time flies when you’re on MC, haha.

One of the downsides to my TRAM flap surgery is that, the whole tummy tuck process has caused my scoliosis to become even more obvious than it was before. Before my operation, I could pretty much hide the fact that my left leg was shorter than my right. But the week after, I realised while cleaning up in the bathroom and staring at my body in the mirror, that I suddenly had a hump on my right hip.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, for the first 30 days I was pretty much hunched like Liang Po Po and shuffling in an eerily similar fashion, except without the walking stick. When I went back to see Dr Hoe two weeks after the operation, his nurse Christine exclaimed: “Aiyoh! Why lidat? You looked fine sitting down — stand up only jialat!”

Liang Po Po: Jack Neo's most memorable alter-ego

Thing is, the tummy tuck basically meant that my tummy skin from 4, 5 inches above my navel had been pulled down 5 inches and sewn down. So that effectively made me something of a tightly strung bow, curving at the shoulder to compensate for the tightened stomach skin.

Yeah, OW.

I could feel my whole upper body was out of whack. My shoulders felt imbalanced. I wasn’t confident of going for a back massage (mostly because it hurts to high heaven to lie on my tummy even now, and I wasn’t allowed to the first 4 weeks). So basically I just walked like Liang Po Po and tried not to hurt myself.

But God is good – He really made the human body to be self-healing. As the weeks passed my bow string got a little longer and I stood a little straighter. But the aches in my back were still killing me, and I still shuffled like a little old trannie.

My plastic surgeon Dr Andrew Khoo suggested that I try to resume as much of my pre-surgery activity as possible, even going to the gym. His only taboo: “NO WEIGHTS.”

But to be honest, I didn’t think I could get on the treadmill just yet, and I wasn’t quite sure if all those table tops and attempted headstands were going to be weight-bearing (and honestly I didn’t want to scream out in pain, or tear my stitches and bleed through my workout tank… ugh, another nightmare for another blog entry).

So I thought I would start and do what already seemed hard enough: take a walk.

My first week of walks consisted of 100 metre crawls, holding on to the shoulder of my son Big B, who valiantly crawled along with me.

Middle B and Little B got into the act the second week, but they got bored real fast and sped ahead plucking every flower they could find on our short sojourn.

The 2 Bs getting bored and leaving Mommy behind...

Little B singing and destroying flowering shrubs all the way down the road

By the third week, I could walk about 800 metres around the block. My shoulders were still killing me but at least I felt a glimmer in my heart that hey, I could actually be getting better!

By the fourth week of my exercise routine (the sixth week after operation), I found myself walking my old route of 3.5km! I wasn’t going as fast as I used to, but wow, the shin burn felt fantastic and familiar, and — believe it or not — it felt like heaven to sweat again.

I even managed to work in a short, slow jog twice that week. And I mean s-l-o-w, but again, it felt wonderful to surprise myself with new “achievements”.

Bit by bit, I am working my body, finding my exercise feet again. I am reversing the Liang Po Po effect! I never thought I would ever be grateful for being able to exercise — what used to be necessary to keep fit and (feebly) fight fat has now become a panacea, an emotional and mental one.

Man, I’m so loving my smelly Nikes right now!

Eww! There’s A Hair On My New Boob

SPOILER ALERT: This post might potentially offend some with its utter political incorrectness. For that I apologize.

Hamadryas Baboons at the Singapore Zoo have every right to hairy boobs. And now, so do I!

This morning as I am toweling myself dry after my shower, I look down and notice a little teeny tiny hair where it should not be.

It measures about 1/2 a centimetre long, and is quite thick at the root.

It’s growing out of the patch of skin that Dr Andrew Khoo, my plastic surgeon, used to recreate a new breast for me.

So, I have a hair on my new boob.

I whip out my tweezers and poise the tips over this offensive follicle — and at that moment, it strikes me that I’m looking at my tummy really up close and personal for the first time. Because it’s that belt of fat and skin that used to be under my belly button that’s now playing right breast. I stare at the skin, and realise, it’s really different from breast skin! Tummy skin has bigger pores, and the texture and feeling is totally different from the breast. Plus, small hairs have been known to grow on mine… Duh!

I recall seeing a photo of a lady who had had a TRAM flap done too. Unfortunately, her new boob bore stretch marks from the Area Formerly Known As Her Tummy. It looked like a bacon cookie in the centre of her breast. At the risk of sounding vain (which I am), I’m glad I don’t have that problem.

Also, it makes me realise that my new breast is actually growing! It’s alive! That’s how the hair can grow, right? Having a TRAM flap means that I have a reconstructed breast from my very own body, no synthetic parts. It may be a while before it feels “natural” to me, but at least I know it really is 100% me.

So, I put my tweezers away and leave my little teeny tiny hair where its new home now is. A teeny tiny reminder to be grateful for all things, big and small.

Happy National Day, Everyone!

Little B the patriot, as photographed by Aunty Wendy

I’ve always been pretty transparent about my love for my country and my appreciation of the systems and order our government has in place, that has enabled our 45-year-old nation to develop at breakneck speed.

(For that reason, I know some more “serious” writers have thought me a fluffy bunny in the “serious” writing department. I don’t see why, really…)

I’ll tell you why I love Singapore:

1. MEDISHIELD. Without Medishield, I might not even be blogging today, because I would have probably pawned my laptop by now to pay for my $30,000 hospital bill for my mastectomy and hospital stay. Medishield is brilliant (and you should top up with one of those Aviva or other insurance company supplementary plans that also covers you for other things like your income for the number of days you are on MC, your co-payment and all that). Medishield is the number one reason why I think living in Singapore is a real privilege. You can’t buy a smart government.

2. MY KIDS. Singapore is a safe place for kids and as PM said in his Nat Day speech last night, our school system (despite all the criticisms we parents have at one point or another) just keeps improving. Even as we grow to be more and more multi-cultural and multi-racial, we just keep improving (or at least we have every intention to, which counts for a lot in my book). My little 3.7 year old goes to a wonderful preschool called Little Big, where she experiences teachers who really love her into excelling. She is speaking more, engaging more, even making more cheeky jokes thanks to the presence of those teachers who believe that, Yes, She Can! These teachers were brought up in Singapore, products of our Singapore school system, who are making a real difference to the next generation.

3. IT’S THE BEST OF EAST & WEST. I’m not saying this because I think we’re so hot to watch American Idol while eating kimchi instant noodles and explaining why Ryan Seacrest is sexy to our mother in Hokkien. For me to get cancer here in this city is one of the most fortunate things for me, that’s my opinion. In America, the healthcare system doesn’t look after you till you’ve signed on the insurance form (that is, if you have insurance. If not, sorry…). In the UK, a friend told me that despite their free national healthcare system, people may not seek treatment for breast cancer or any kind of cancer purely because between the first visit and the next it’s forever, plus it costs too much to travel to the hospital, and there, unlike here, they don’t have domestic helpers to accompany them or to cook them meals. (My amazing ex-boss Michael Keating set up a wonderful cancer foundation in memory of his late sister, TV presenter Caron Keating, who died of breast cancer. The Caron Keating Foundation gives allowances to cancer patients to travel to and from treatments and other daily needs.)

I’m glad I’m a cancer patient in Singapore. Apart from first-class healthcare, here I can have a really good post-cancer diet, from Greek salads to bird’s nest soup — really the best of both worlds. I am hunting for a pot of aloe vera which grows so well in our climate. Aloe has such great healing value — I used to grind up the actual aloe flesh and put it over my mom’s skin after her radiation treatment. It was the only thing that soothed that horrible heat that lingered on and inside the body.

And those are my three, extremely selfish reasons for loving my country.

Hope you all have a wonderful National Day! 2 more hours to National Day Parade!

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