Fruit Of My Labour (No, Not The Kids)

Yesterday my friend Serene SMSed me with this message:

“Threez I’m buying the GE insurance policy that u r ‘fronting’ :)”

It made me really happy to read her message, because this was a friend who had not really thought about insurance or health checks before seeing me go through what I did. She’s in her twenties, a lovely, well-accomplished girl with a great future ahead of her. She deserves to be properly protected for any hiccups in life — nothing should stand in her way.

When I receive calls or emails or SMSes from friends and readers of this blog who are in their 20s and 30s and who have been diagnosed with breast, cervical or ovarian cancer, it crushes me. I have gotten over my initial shock that I was just 42 when I was diagnosed (I realise now, many, many women are diagnosed in their late 30s and 40s), but it still upsets me when a younger person gets the dreaded “Big C”.

I’ve been sharing with close friends about the products available out there — not because I get commission (though quite a few people have asked me to become a life planner, which makes me laugh out loud! I can’t even understand the documents!), but because if I can in some small way prevent anyone from having to go through what I did because of insufficient insurance, that would be a great reward for me.

In June, Great Eastern invited me to speak to their special group of planners who focus on families and women. The plans they promote help women to protect against health crises (not just cancer but heart disease, stroke and other common health issues), and also helps them plan for their children’s future.

Talking to Great Eastern's planners about the important role they play in helping women and families.

Catherine Ho, the lovely VP of marketing at Great Eastern, had me talk about my cancer experience and what I went through with my insurance. The core of the talk was 10 ways to handle cancer positively. I presented what I hoped was a funny yet honest account of what I experienced, and urged the planners to really get to know and understand their clients, because it is only through a real relationship that they can help these women.

Catherine Ho of Great Eastern (left) has a true passion for helping women that I greatly admire.

After the talk, I was very moved by the women and men who came up to talk to me. One lady told me, with tears in her eyes, that I was very blessed — her husband had not survived his cancer. A few asked me to explain what DCIS or Stage 0 cancer is, and why is it not always determined by the size of the tumour. They demonstrated a real desire to understand the disease — quite a number said they had clients who called them after a DCIS diagnosis, and they had no clue how to help. But after my sharing, they had a better idea.

Talking about life after cancer — major in the major stuff, like your family and kids.

Great Eastern’s Early Payout Critical Care was one of the first — if not the first to address this problem of early stage critical illness coverage. Before them, I had not heard of any other company having the cojones to insure against this — these days I am even more impressed because of the sheer number of DCIS and Stage 1 cases I come across through my blog and friends calling me. And once GE started, it seems the other insurance companies followed suit.

Serene’s not the first one to buy the EPCC plan since I started blogging and talking about it, and I hope she’s not the last. Just bridging that gap can make such a difference to a cancer patient. It’s peace of mind I would happily pay to have, if I could.

Great Eastern Shares My Story

An outtake shot at the Great Eastern shoot

You might have seen the full page Great Eastern ad in today’s Sunday Times and Lianhe. When GE asked if I would share my story (vs them hiring a model to pose for their Early Payout Critical Care ad) I did take a while to think about it. On the one hand, would people think my “sad case” is being exploited? On the other, isn’t this what “creating public awareness” is all about? Getting people to see the importance of really being covered for every possible circumstance, to the best of your ability.

I wish someone had done this for me when I still afford new policies. So, with the cautious agreement of Mr Threez, I said yes.

The photo shoot was fun. I always enjoy having photos taken of or with my kids. I brought Middle B because she was the only one who didn’t have school till 5pm that day—also, she’s done this a few times and would probably be the most comfortable in front of the camera.

But even for someone like her, it was hard to pose to the satisfaction of the photographer Stanley Koh, whom I must say, has some beautiful work under his belt. You know the universal rule of photographers: “No animals or children”. But Stanley did a great job.

A light touch of blusher for Middle B

Middle B enjoys the makeup part of every shoot. We had the privilege of having the cheerful Ivan Hoo of In Square Salon pretty us up. Turns out we both know Grace Lee of Nuyou – Ivan has known her even before she became a writer at Nuyou! It’s always fun to chat with industry people—I don’t get to goss much so this kind of intravenous information is always fun in small doses!

The idea of the shoot was to show the life I now have—enjoying moments with my children. That part of it was not a “fake photo” at all. Now that I’ve come out of my cancer experience (tomorrow 25 April will mark the 10th month since my operation) I make sure I treasure every moment I have with my kids and my husband. Each one is a bonus to me.

As Great Eastern worked with me on the advertorial the last two weeks, I have to admit I felt sadder and sadder reading all the benefits of the policy. If I had met someone who told me that my policies had this huge gap, that I wasn’t covered for early stage cancer or any illness, Great Eastern would be talking to someone else today.

But if I want to see something changed—other people not having to go through what I did—sometimes, I just have to be the “sacrificial lamb”.

I have to say GE’s EPCC policy is really good. It covers the buyer not only for early stage critical illnesses (not just cancer, but heart disease, diabetes and other common ailments) but it allows you to make multiple claims with no waiting period in between. My mother was a classic case of this — she had been scheduled for her mastectomy, but when they checked her out to ascertain she could survive the operation the doctors discovered that one of her major arteries to the heart was nearly fully blocked. She might have needed a heart operation — EPCC would have been a good policy to have in this sort of case.

Plus, Great Eastern is giving a 30% discount now. I cannot begin to say how I wish I could buy this plan! But I hope it’s not too late for other women like me—or men for that matter. While you have the chance, get covered, please. I hope people read the ad and do something about it. Judging by the number of DCIS and Stage 1 cases people have told me about in the last year, I think getting covered for early stage illness is definitely a worthwhile investment.

I find that God has a lovely sense of poetry. That this ad came out today—Easter Sunday—is meaningful to me. Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected this day (actually Easter Monday but let’s celebrate anyway!) 2011 ago. I had cancer, but God gave me back my life—Jesus died for someone just like me. I am healed today, because He died and rose again. Blows my mind every time I think about it. Jesus was the “sacrificial lamb” for me.

The photo you see in the Great Eastern ad. I was telling Middle B a joke about three forgetful old women.

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.