Protecting My Kids’ Happiness: Two Cancer Survivors Agree on What Matters Most
According to the Ministry of Health’s statistics, cancer and cardiovascular diseases are the top two killers in Singapore, contributing to about 60 per cent of all deaths each year. And while we can try to prevent heart diseases and strokes by living a healthy lifestyle, cancer is always that something we hear about happening to ‘other people’. Yet almost one in three deaths are caused by it every day.
What if a critical illness happens to you, especially when you are a parent of young children who depend on you? Two cancer survivors share their story.
Candice Chiew – Former Counsellor and Mum of Two
Happily married with two daughters aged eight and three, Candice was your typical Singaporean superwoman struggling with work-life balance. She had a demanding career as a social worker, working with other families with young children. Between work and household chores, shuttling the kids from school to swimming lessons and ballet classes, she was always busy. What spare time she had was spent with the family on weekend shopping trips, dining out at favourite restaurants, and short family getaways twice yearly during the school holidays.
“My cancer was discovered in February 2019, during the second week of Chinese New Year. I started coughing up blood and went to the polyclinic, where they insisted I go to the hospital immediately. There, I was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Over the following six or seven months, I went through 12 sessions of chemotherapy, probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Mentally it was really difficult. It felt like I was a burden, and I didn’t know how sick I would be, or if I would survive this. Sometimes when my blood count was too low, they had to postpone the session for a bit. After each session, I had to get a booster jab to increase my white blood cells because the treatment kills good blood cells too.
But as hard as chemo was, it wasn’t as bad as not having the chance to explain to my little one why I had to stop breastfeeding her so abruptly. I felt so sorry that she suddenly had to go cold turkey. I also tried to protect my older one from knowing the truth of my illness initially, as she’s a natural worrier. But as time went on, I forced myself to give up a lot of control and made a real effort to teach my girls independence. I felt I had to prepare them for the eventuality that I might die.
Unfortunately, a PET scan last September showed that the cancer was still present, so I had to undergo an additional 24 radiotherapy sessions. My latest PET scan in July 2020 showed that I am still living with cancer, so the battle continues.
I had quit my job early on to focus on the treatment, so my husband, a teacher, became the sole breadwinner. Thankfully, I had health and life insurance coverage because the costs of treatment would have wiped out all our savings, and we’d probably be knee-deep in debt.
The 12 chemo sessions cost about $10k each time, and the booster jabs up to $1k each. Add on four PET scans so far, at $2.5k each. The course of radiotherapy was an additional $20k. And that’s not counting all the pre-treatment blood tests, hospital stays, and other miscellaneous costs, all of which were covered by my health insurance. It also allowed me the freedom to choose the best course of treatment for my condition, and do so in Class A in a private hospital.
The life insurance payout has allowed us to maintain our standard of living for the most part. We enrolled my younger girl in the same Montessori kindergarten her big sister attended. Ballet and swimming lessons continue for them too. Cancer has certainly changed my perspective on life, but my children are still young, and it’s important to me that the things they enjoy are not disrupted.
Perhaps most crucially, having insurance freed me from having to worry about working through my illness to keep up with the financial liabilities. In making the choice to become a single-income household, I’ve also gained the liberty of spending more quality time with my children. And nothing could be more precious than that.
On hindsight, I’m very thankful that I made the decision to buy life insurance for myself. The security that I have now, and the ability to still provide for my children (including the little extras that keep them happy) are things that I do not take for granted. If I could turn back time, the only different choice I’d make is to get myself insured for a higher amount. But everything on hindsight is perfect, and for now, I’m thankful to have enough to sustain the lifestyle we have as a family while recovering from my illness.
Nicky Loh – Film Director/Professional Photographer and Dad to Little Nathan
As a freelancer, Nicky was used to working 12-hour days, up to seven days a week. But he knew how to play hard too. Two or three times each year, he would take some time off for a family holiday to his wife’s hometown in Taiwan, sometimes even flying by business class for his family’s comfort when their son was still a little baby. The doting husband and father also planned fancy vacations for his wife’s birthday in June, year-end holidays in December, and little Nathan got all the latest toys. They live in a condo in the one-north area, and have a helper. Nicky is also the director of Income’s Protect Happiness campaign film — a topic close to his heart.
“It started with my face and neck being swollen in October 2019. A GP said I had a lymph node infection and sent me home with some meds. But when the swelling worsened, a second GP had me visit a hospital emergency department immediately. I was diagnosed with primary mediastinal B cell lymphoma. The doctors said that if left untreated, I had only 30 days to live.
On the night I was diagnosed, I was terrified. Why me? What did I do wrong? I’m not an evil person, so why did I get struck with cancer? What would happen to Nathan if he had to grow up fatherless. He’s only two years old. How would my wife cope? Did I have enough savings? My child — I love him so much — I wanted to see him grow up. Thoughts like these just kept running through my head. The next 10 days were spent in the hospital undergoing gruelling procedures. I was started on chemotherapy, but then my sister recommended another doctor, my brother-in-law’s ex-classmate. He advised an enhanced chemotherapy regimen that would carry a higher success rate for remission. So I underwent six cycles of chemo in all, from October 2019 to March 2020.
Chemo is a scary thing — chemicals coursing through your body for five days during every 21-day cycle. I was constantly tired and nauseated. Also, you feel less of a person, like you have only 20% battery. That was difficult to deal with — my son has boundless energy and kept wanting me to play with him, but I just couldn’t. But that was also one of the main motivations that got me through it; seeing my son made me want to pull through.
Thankfully, a PET scan in March 2020 showed that the cancer was in complete remission. Still, every day in the past six months since then, I fear having a relapse. The first two years are very crucial. I try to keep my stress levels low, but there’s no way to shut that nagging voice at the back of my mind out. Sometimes I wake up with night sweats.
In the meantime, I’ve made tons of changes to my lifestyle. While I’ve started working again, I limit myself to directing one film a month, versus the two or three previously. I no longer pack my days so tightly. I jog a lot and eat more cleanly. I go vegetarian 10 times a month as part of fulfilling a vow my wife made to Buddha. Every night, I meditate and do breathing exercises.
I am so grateful to my doctor, and to my wife. It’s stressful being a cancer patient’s caregiver, and she was very affected by the experience. She’s seeing a therapist and taking some medication to help her through some anxiety issues. It didn’t help that we couldn’t send Nathan to preschool during my treatment as he could bring back a cough or flu, which given my low white blood cell count during the chemo, could have led to further complications.
Another thing I’m grateful for is that we haven’t had to struggle financially or compromise on things that make my family happy despite not working during my illness. I still indulge Nathan in all the cool toys, and if not for COVID-19, we would still be going for holidays. In fact, we wanted to celebrate my recovery in Perth, but cancelled on the account of the (government-imposed) circuit breaker. When we couldn’t dine out during that period, we had the restaurants deliver to us instead.
I did a calculation, and my family expenditure adds up to about $8,000-$10,000 a month, including house and car payments. As sole breadwinner, my job sustains this lifestyle, but when cancer hit, I feared that my savings would be wiped out. I didn’t want to think about working during my treatment either, and was blessed that I could stop work with the payouts sustaining my expenses. I wanted to focus on getting better, and on spending every precious moment with my family.
The $350,000 lump sum payout from my life insurance, on top of critical illness and hospitalisation coverage, provided a huge relief. Without this buffer, I don’t think I could have been so chill, and it would have affected my recovery for sure. I cannot imagine having to go through the stress of fighting cancer and financial difficulties at the same time. The most unexpected relief of having life insurance was the relief of still being able to buy my son toys – the fact that I was still able to bring some happiness into his life was something I held very dear.
While I had to fork out $60,000 in cash upfront to cover the initial 10-day hospitalisation, it was reimbursed by my plan, which also covered the rest of the treatment. The chemo came to $120,000, and plus additional supplements, the total bill would have been about $200,000. That’s the price of a two-room apartment!
I didn’t know it was so expensive to treat cancer and I wonder how people with no insurance manage.
When I received the life insurance payout, my first thought was ‘Thank god I have this money as a backup in case something happens to me.’ If the chemotherapy doesn’t work, at least my wife and son have this $350,000 and my savings to carry on with life. It may not sustain them for a lifetime, but it does give them a head start.”
While Candice and Nicky are two individuals who come from different walks of life, both have faced critical illness, fought courageously, and survived. Both were also able to assure their children’s and family’s happiness by maintaining their everyday routines and even continuing to enjoy life’s little luxuries.
Despite being stricken by cancer, both are fortunate to have invested in insurance plans that not only helped them avoid financial stress, but also gave them extra peace of mind. They could focus on battling their illness, knowing that their children would be taken care of, no matter what.
No one can predict when a critical illness might hit. But as parents who are responsible for the happiness of someone other than yourself, let’s not play the odds. Learn more about how to ensure your child’s happiness with the right insurance plans for your needs. They deserve to have all the happiness in the world.