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.

Zumba Zumba Zumba!

Last night my 12-year-old son came up to our bedroom.

“Whaddup.” (Momspeak for “you better have a good reason for disturbing me”)

“I just wanted to remind you to set your alarm clock so you will not miss your Zumba class tomorrow,” says my beloved firstborn.

*melt* I do believe he is going to grow up to be a gentleman like his Dad.


Obviously I must have complained a LOT last Monday about waking up late and missing Zumba. There is only ONE (1) Zumba class the entire week at True Fitness and it’s on Mondays at 9.30am. So, if I miss that I have to settle for the *yawn* treadmill.

I’m new to Zumba. This was only my 2nd lesson but I could see why it’s the most popular class on Monday mornings. It’s a dance fitness class that employs Latin moves (samba, salsa…) and it’s just plain fun.

Our instructor is a pretty Arabic-looking boy-man who adds to the fun, making the confusing moves look easy as pie (they are not!) and reminding us to smile.

The class is 99% female, save for the one young boy (I’ll be honest, I always wonder how come he’s got time to be in Zumba – doesn’t he have Poly to attend?).

Girls Zumba'ing in a row!


Girls have more fun — if there’s a place this saying holds true, it is at Zumba class. This morning, I was sandwiched between a first-timer (who kept up admirably) and an Indian lady having the time of her life. We smacked our arms against one another and stepped on each other’s shoes, but all it took was a laugh and a smile and we were back on track.

Some of the Zumba diehards look so good! In their tight cropped tops and mini skirts, they looked like they didn’t get enough at Zouk last night. Then there are the 40-somethings and 50-somethings, some of whom have six-packs that Arnie would kill for.

But it really is the energy and one-ness in this room of women that’s the draw. Everyone’s just there, together, having a great, wild, dancing, sweating, sexy time.

Some of the moves are Rihanna-sexy, and it feels safe doing it in a room with 30 other women.


You can tell it looks hot, coz outside the glass-doored studio, the men have stopped pumping iron and are watching the gyrations happening inside. (The girls who are wearing the least and know they look the hottest are usually the ones closest to the glass panes — rest of us are on the other end!)

Some of the spectators, I suspect, are wondering if they should come early on Mondays to join in the class. But seeing how it’s filled with women… well, it’s great to be a woman, that’s all I can say!

I do suspect it would take about 4 hours of Zumba to burn some serious calories, but for now I’ll settle for that 1 hour of estrogen-filled fun every Monday.

Check out www.zumba.com if you’re curious!

PS Don’t forget to make your pledge — Why it’s Great To Be A Woman! Click here to pledge (and tell all your friends — let’s make it 20,000 pledges by 8 March!)

Quick! Make your pledge!

It’s Great Being A Woman

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’ve just passed the six-month mark since my mastectomy. Though I still wake up with some tightness where I had my surgery, I am 95 percent able to do everything I used to do, and I am so grateful for that!

These past six months, I have met women who have gone through different types of cancers and other life-threatening illnesses and incidents. I am amazed by the two things that unite all of us — the love for life and the spirit to “get over it and carry on”. There is no patience for moping or self-pity of any sort!

My buddy Joyce (left), who had a heart issue last year, is one of the most positive and funny women in the world.

I have also met men who have gone through surgeries for different things — while some of them are positive and have made healthy changes to their lives, I cannot say the men share the same joie de vivre I have experienced with the women.

It’s as if having a second chance at life has unleashed all their creativity and sense of fun. We compare scars like war veterans (except for the part where we collapse in giggles over games of “show me yours and I’ll show you mine”). We swop recipes for healthy, cancer-busting meals (and then some other recipes for “midnight comfort foods”). We encourage each other to live healthier — exercise, drink birds’ nest, take breaks from work, manage stress. We boost each other’s egos — my friends make me smile by telling me they never would have guessed I had a mastectomy because my breasts now look like an absolutely normal pair (from the outside, at least).

Maybe it’s just how God made women. Maybe we just have look-on-the-bright-side DNA. Maybe it’s our inbuilt survival instinct — we have to be our best, strongest self or how can we look after our children who need us?

Whatever it is, I know it’s great to be a woman. We are as strong as we are gentle. We are as intuitive as we are intelligent. We get to have babies, and our babies will always love us no matter how old they grow.

I’m blessed to have a husband who totally spoils me, who is my best friend, who laughs at my jokes and who makes me laugh till I snort rice grains out my nose. I’m blessed with children who know when to hug me when I’m down, who kiss me on my nose “till your chest gets better, Mommy”, who tell me jokes and get the punchline all wrong. It’s truly a wife’s and mother’s privilege.

My good friend’s mother, Aunty Mag, used to be a radiologist. When she visited me in hospital, she said to me, “You know, it seems terrible now, but breast cancer is one of the best cancers to have. Because when you catch it early it is in a part of your body that can be removed. If it’s colon cancer or stomach cancer, it’s far more terrible.”

In the bigger scheme of things, she is absolutely right. I didn’t even need chemotherapy or radiotherapy after my mastectomy. It’s great being a woman.

Post-script: Great Eastern is running a pledge campaign titled “It’s Great To Be A Woman”. Make your pledge at http://www.itsgreattobeawoman.com or click here! (You can vote for my pledge too – search “Threezframe”). For every pledge Great Eastern will make a donation to the Breast Cancer Foundation towards research and support for breast cancer patients. Let’s make it 20,000 pledges!

The Vampires Strike Back (And Some Umpires Too)

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No, that’s not the vampire who called me. I wish!

The last 48 hours, my mobile has kept ringing. I am almost thankful my Blackberry Bold is on its last legs and the battery zaps out around 12 noon if I’ve engaged in more than 30 minutes of talk time.

The callers: friends or friends-of-friends who are insurance agents, determined to set me straight after reading the New Paper article yesterday about my failed claim for DCIS under my critical illness policies.

“You should have read the fine print” was quite a common (exasperated) response. “Everybody knows DCIS is not covered.”

I guess I am not everybody, then. And if you walk down the street and ask 10 people, if you can get 1 who can tell you what DCIS is, I’ll buy you two pints of Haagen Dazs Caramel Biscuit And Cream.

Other priceless responses from insurance agents included:

• “But this other plan covers you for DCIS what.” (erm, hello, that’s not the plan my agent sold me despite knowing my risk for breast cancer. That’s my whole point. Why did 3 agents sell me the same thing knowing I should buy something that covers me for every stage of cancer? And now that I have had DCIS and a mastectomy, can you get your other plan to cover me? If not, shut up.)

• “DCIS where got mastectomy one? No need lah, chemo and radiation can already, for DCIS and Stage 1.” (Okay lah, you get cancer across 5cm of your breast tissue and tell me if you want to take the risk of chemo vs removing the d*** cancer from your body.)

• “I can’t speak for Prudential but if you had bought from my insurance company you would get blahblahblah…” (Where were you when I was draining my hardearned cash into dud policies?)

But to their credit, some friends who are agents were upset for me, and gave me some great tips, including:

• Don’t surrender my policies yet. Surrendering is a sure way of losing out because the break even point is something like 15 years or above. I am only considering cashing out one policy, but we’ll see how it goes, now that I have sincere advice, I am not rushing into anything just yet.

• Make sure my hospitalization plans (Medishield Plus) are auto-renewed. Any lapse in payment will make your policy null and void. And don’t be too confident that your GIRO/CPF “automatically” went through. My friend Karen (from Great Eastern) gave me an example of a CPF-deducted plan in which CPF did not automatically transfer the annual premium to the insurance company, and this lady who had cancer could not claim for her hospitalisation.

• Looking out for my children’s plans. Make sure your children are covered for hospitalisation. My Three Bs are all included in my Medishield Plus policies. I will be going through them with my financial planner to make sure they’re water-tight.

But the call I didn’t expect that came, and made me glad, was my woman Prudential agent. She explained that the terminology that doctors use in their post-surgery reports is the only source upon which decisions are made for payouts (or not). I’m not 100% sure what she means, but I’ve sent all my lab and histological reports to her, and she’s making an appeal.

Even if it doesn’t happen, I am just happy she made the effort to call me, touch base, make the effort to repeal the rejection.

But she was the only one out of my three agents who were notified by Prudential that my claim was rejected, to do this.

So, not to sound sexist, but if you are a woman reading this, I would suggest that you buy your life/health policies from another woman. Only a woman can truly comprehend the severity of losing a breast. Not that male agents cannot be sympathetic, but they would not feel for it the way they would if their client had testicular cancer.

I’m grateful for all the knowledge that has come flooding into this blog. I hope whoever reads it will gain something from it, pass it on, link this to a friend’s FB/Twitter/email, and make a difference.

While you are in good health, make sure your insurance coverage is really sufficient. It’s worth the while to do your homework, and I hope this blog will be effective “required reading”.

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!

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.