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FINANCIAL PLANNER, ERNEST ZAMISA ON SUPPORTING A LOVED ONE THROUGH THEIR CANCER JOURNEY

Most people go through life not thinking or preparing for the unfortunate eventualities that may suddenly befall them or a loved one. The truth is, once you have accepted that eventualities do happen and that it could happen to you, you start to consider what you are going to do with the limited time that you have; every day starts mattering, every hour starts being meaningful, every action on your journey becomes different.

This is a lesson my family and I learned between 2017 and 2018 when my ex-wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Ironically, we had just buried the mother of my first child, who had suddenly passed on due to Malaria. The disease had gone undetected for a while and she had been to hospital but they had completely missed it, and only when she was in ICU and they did more blood tests, did they discover that it was Malaria. But by then, it was too late because the volume of the virus in her was too much.

My second wife mentioned that she thought to go for check-ups just to find out what might be going on. When we had that conversation, there was nothing out of the ordinary, but she had had some small lumps for a while that weren’t painful nor bothering her. When she went for her check-up, the doctors said that there was something there which needed to be investigated. They performed tests on the lumps and realized that they were cancerous. They then advised that because the lumps were small, and it seemed like they had caught them early, the doctors would just remove them through surgery. The hope was that they hadn’t spread to the rest of the body; it was going to be a walk-in and walk-out type of thing that would be over in just a few weeks.

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Following the surgery, she went in for a check-up and it was discovered that the cancer had grown past the lymph nodes and into the rest of her body, it was no longer stage one, it had suddenly moved to stage three. So now we weren’t just treating breast cancer, it was cancer in the whole body. And suddenly there were chemo sessions that were recommended, and various other treatments that had to be done periodically.

Because of the level and intensity of chemo that was involved, the different types of medications that had to be administered after the chemo, as well as regular follow-ups, it turned into a two-year journey. At first it sounded like a six-to-eight-month process, only to find that some of the medication wasn’t available immediately, we had to wait for it to arrive in the country. It could therefore not be administered at the same time as the other ones, and had to have its own timeline.

The estimated cost of having cancer is around R800 000, not including additional costs from different hospitals. For private hospital treatment, you are most likely looking at +-R3000 for mammogram tests +-R5000 for the biopsy, around R30 000 to operate on both breasts + reconstruction, as well as chemotherapy at +-R20 000 per session for 25 sessions (including cardio test on every 3rd session). You will also have to make funds available for radiation and annual mammograms thereafter.

However, should you qualify for treatment at a public hospital, you may receive more cost-effective options on consultations and surgery prices at which the state carries the costs and donors contribute significantly towards affordability.

You would, by having sufficient funds available, find that there are high quality private hospitals with the latest and greatest medical assistance. However, we are privileged in SA to have the excellence of a hospital such as Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, who have highly skilled and qualified medical practitioners and research facilities equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and medicine available in Africa, and globally.

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The best way to beat Cancer is to be prepared in advance to maximize your chances of getting over the ordeal: set an emergency fund or savings account for unexpected expenses; have sufficient cover against any possible eventuality; and live a healthy lifestyle with goals focused on your wellbeing and that of your loved ones.

When considering policies to prepare for the future, my advice is as follows:

  1. Momentum Health (preferably any of the three options – Incentive, Extender or Summit) they have good oncology and day-to-day benefits).
  2. Complete income protection (with enhancer benefit) so that you can choose to get either a lump sum or monthly payments (or both).
  3. Complete Critical Illness (my personal choice because of the tiered structure); but there’s also the Enhanced policy which pays on 100% qualifying criteria.
  4. Death benefit (in case the unforeseen and inevitable happens) as financial security for family.  To be “extravagant”, you can add the Death Income Benefit for the family to get a monthly income in the absence of the breadwinner until  the estate is wounded up.
  5. Multiply, for discounts on risk products, health returns on Momentum Health and to have full and free access to Hello Doctor (24hr medical advice platform).

Don’t put it off for later, you never know when disaster will strike. Sacrifice something immediately and implement these things timeously. This is the lesson that I’ve learned; don’t put things off if you could do it today, don’t assume that because the sun shines today, it will shine tomorrow, prepare for the rain. Build the structure for the worst-case scenario so that when it happens, there’s dignity.

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