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What happens if you get cancer? A QnA Session

What happens if you or a loved one gets cancer, how do you deal with it? Cancer is a problem that many people suffer from. Many don’t know how to react or properly deal with it if they get diagnosed. 

Speakers Eugene Seah and Kelly Choo answer these questions. Eugene is a financial accountant and life coach for Say Yes to Abundance!. He helps people with financial protection. Kelly is the CMO and co-founder of Neeuro, a brain computing research company that helps empower people with their mental health. Kelly’s wife is a cancer survivor.

Q: How did your wife find out she had cancer?

Kelly: My wife had a very rare form of cancer, and I think it was really a double whammy because her mother also had cancer, but she passed away after battling it for three years. It was very innocent as to how my wife discovered she had cancer. One day she was just climbing up the stairs and she felt breathless. 

She didn’t really think much about it at first, but what really triggered it was that when she climbed one set of stairs and she said that she felt like she was running a marathon. She went for a checkup and was diagnosed with pneumonia. This was probably about nine months to a year before she got properly diagnosed. 

The cancer wasn’t detected initially because it was so rare.

The doctors treated her with medicine for six months, but nothing happened. It became worse. They thought that it was embolism, which is bleeding of the lungs. They gave her more treatment for that, but it didn’t help either.

Someone in National University Hospital (NUH) eventually realised that that data wasn’t normal, and suggested that we visit a doctor to perform a CT scan. My wife did the scan and they discovered a very aggressive growth in her chest area. Of course, we were very anxious because at the time it was going to be life or death.

We eventually found a private practitioner as most doctors couldn’t operate on it as it was so rare. He operated on her and removed her entire left lung and rewired her heart in a way, and the cancer was removed from her body. 

Q: What was the most difficult part of the entire process?

Kelly: If you ask me, the most difficult part was, as a caregiver and spouse was basically facing the reality that we all have about the mortality of our lives. 

I still remember very clearly that the night before the major surgery was to happen we basically sat down and we took a book and wrote down all the wishes that she had if anything went wrong. 

A wish for my daughter, a wish for my dad, just wishes for our families. 

It was not strictly a will, because we couldn’t enforce it, but just wishes so that whoever survived could carry them out for her. The thought that you might just lose your loved ones in a few hours was one of the toughest parts of the whole ordeal.

Q: How did you deal with it?

Kelly: My belief that for every so-called bad experience that we have in our lives, somehow there is a silver lining to it. 

No matter how bad the situation is, I shouldn’t think too much about the future. Instead, I should cherish the time we have now.

If you have a belief that there is a higher being that’s there to teach us something, I think that’s the best thing that you can use to overcome difficult times.

Q: What do you say to encourage and comfort your wife when she felt down?

Kelly: A lot of it is on the values that we share and what we look forward to and enjoy. Things like travel and nature. One of the biggest motivations to finish the chemotherapy was to travel. We wanted to go to Japan.

After she finished the chemotherapy, she immediately negotiated with the doctor to give her the stamp of approval that she was healthy because she wanted to fly. 

Looking forward to  things like travel, experiences you share  and the joy of being in nature helped a lot.

Q: What if you get cancer?

Eugene: Very few people know that the highest occurrence of cancer is between age 36 to 45. I think most people think it’s above 65, but it’s statistically not true. 

The next highest occurrence is from 46 to 55. So basically, this middle age poses a very high probability of getting cancer. 

I am in that age range, and I have three young kids. When I see the statistics, I get very worried because I’m still healthy and energetic. 

Most tend to think that only other people can get it and not themselves, just like COVID-19 right now. The truth is that it can happen to anyone.

Everything becomes hot air the moment you get cancer, because then you have to dash all your dreams and borrow money from relatives to settle your medical bills. 

You may have to quit your stable job in order to seek treatment and recover from it.

Q: What are the things that people should look out for?

Eugene: Most Singaporeans understand the importance of hospitalisation insurance. Once you enter the hospital, you would definitely prefer for your insurance to cover it rather than forking out your own cash. 

The blind spot I see is that most people forget that once they leave the hospital, they need cash to finance their recovery too.

A lot of people say cancer insurance without actually knowing what it is. They think that it’s as simple as going to the hospital and getting insurance. It’s not as simple as that.

Hospitalisation and cancer insurance are two different things. 

Many Singaporeans think that they have a lot of insurance, say $100,000. But when you calculate your annual expenses, it’ll really only last you a few years, maybe two to three at the most, and not the rest of your life. 

Once you run out, it’ll be hard to buy another insurance, and few insurance companies will cover that much.

Since cancer treatment and recovery may take longer than that, it’s not going to cover all your bills and expenses. 

Q: What if I do not have any coverage and I cannot pay the medical bills? 

Eugene: You won’t have to worry about that in Singapore. During my father’s time, he did not have any insurance and yet, his medical bills were taken care of by the government.

Now, however, the government has been liberalising insurance, opening up to all these private companies. Thus, it will be a very different situation for future generations.

You now have more options for coverage, such as Prudential, which is the one I have.

Q: How would you look for a specialist?

Kelly: It depends on the context. We asked our friends and families along with the people who are known in this field. People like doctors and specialists. 

When we asked around, a few names will always pop up because they are known in the particular field to treat such cancers. If it’s a more common type of cancer like lung or breast cancer, you’ll have a lot more options. 

I believe that you should actually ask more than one person for their opinion. If  you ask more people, you can evaluate your options and come to a conclusion on the best option because ultimately it’s your life and your decision.

You might not want to just listen to one particular doctor who has always done things in a particular way.

The best way is we need to ask around and go to the other major public hospitals. If your insurance can cover private hospitals, you should definitely talk to some private doctors. 

I think you can also consider the senior specialists in public hospitals. They likely have opportunities to move to private hospitals but choose to stay in public hospitals. They are likely the ones who have a heart to serve the community. 

Q: What would be your advice to other people in the same situation?

Eugene: I’ve got a good friend whose wife also had cancer, and the first thing he told me was that he immediately reviewed all his insurance plans. 

It was a wake up call for him, because it would be a tragedy not just physically but also financially

I’d say that you shouldn’t be complacent. I’m not saying that you will get cancer, but at least always do risk assessment.

Kelly: Cancer is both a physical and mental game. Your mind controls how your body as well as the other people around you react, so having positive support from your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your family members, or anyone else who cares for you is important. 

There will be down days, there will be up days, but it’s important to keep that mindset.

You can have the best treatment, but if you’re psychologically affected and the people around you are not giving you the kind of support it could make all the difference between a good and bad treatment.

Having a hope for the future is also important. Very important. My wife and I planned for the future, and even if it’s unknown, we still plan. Anything can happen. Cancer can come back anytime, and those without it can get it anytime. 

There was a study that showed that people who had cancer seemed to be in stressful environments before they got diagnosed.

You have to take care of your mental health, and not just your physical health. Physical health is obvious, but mental isn’t. People can suffer emotionally and have conditions as depression. 

This can lead to cancer in some cases. Try to de-stress when you can. 

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