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Everything you learn from spending $200,000 on leukemia at 28

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TWS: For this sponsored post by FWD Insurance, we interviewed a close friend of ours, who managed to overcome cancer twice. Half of the proceeds from this sponsored post go to her. We hope you learn from her experience. We did.   

 

At 28, I was in a pretty good place. Armed with a humble diploma, I rose through the ranks from being a personal assistant to a senior tech exec. It had taken me over 10 years of long nights, part-time studies and tedious mastery of both code and software. 

I was earning decent money. Not a lot, but enough to give my parents some much-needed allowance, and start paying off a massive debt a previous relationship had saddled me with. 

Life was good. Until it wasn’t. Leukemia came in and changed everything. 

Here’s a short summary, without the chemo. 

“Cancer is like a sneaky ninja. Let him come too close, and it’s all over.”

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Except ninjas don’t make you go for expensive treatment at the hospital repeatedly.

Months before I went for a medical checkup, I had already noticed some abnormalities with my body. But I ignored them because I was just too busy and tired.

At first, I attributed my lethargy to the overnighters I frequently pulled. My metabolism was bonkers as well. I barely had an appetite to eat, but my weight would fluctuate. Then came the unexplainable rounds of flu, fever and cough that kept coming. I remember thinking it was as if my immune system had gone AWOL.

The final straw was mysterious bruises that kept appearing around my body, despite me never bumping into anything.

After a health screening, I was referred to the cancer center at SGH to have a blood test. 

When the doctor told me I said I had to get a Leukemia bone marrow biopsy, everything started falling into place.

In October 2015, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I wish I had done that checkup sooner. 

 

“When you punish yourself, your body keeps score”

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Those late nights in your 20s will come to haunt you at some point.  When tho?

That’s something a doctor once said to me, and it’s stuck. 

It means that while the effects of not looking after your body may not immediately be apparent, they do add up in the long run – yes, even in your 20s when you feel invincible. 

Your most important asset is your health. It affects everything – relationships, careers, experiences – you can’t live to your full potential without being healthy. 

High stress, a poor diet and a lack of sleep can cause cancer. In a bid to overcome my financial circumstances, I put myself through all of that by burying myself in work. 

If you’re like me and hustling in your 20s/30s, just keep in mind that it took just five years of hardcore hustling and an unhealthy lifestyle for me to get leukemia. 

Working late one night is okay. Getting wasted once is okay. Do it on a regular basis, and it just might return to haunt you later in life. 

Sometimes, sooner than you think.

“It’s almost impossible to use your savings to fight cancer”

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If you started off like me, a diploma holder, you’d need to be doing pretty amazingly to save $200,000 by 28.

Most salarymen can’t say they’ve blown through $200,000 in a year.

I have, and sadly, none of it was on bubble tea, movies or trips to Europe. I expected my CI plan to pay out at least $120k, but I only received $97k because of policy exclusions. 

For someone who started her career as a humble PA and given my other financial commitments, $200,000 was simply impossible to save by 28. 

People always say money can’t buy happiness. But I assure you it can buy survival. And to be happy, you at least need to survive – my life was literally saved by $200,000. 

“Having cancer and being an employee at the same time sucks”

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Think work sucks? Try it with cancer.

A lot of people think that when you get cancer, you get to take time off work to focus your efforts on overcoming it. 

That’s true only if you prepared an emergency fund. I couldn’t even afford to stop working, because the loss of income would send my family and finances into turmoil. I had to pay for treatment, too. 

To fund my fight against cancer, I had to keep working in a high-stress environment – which was ironically the same thing that gave me cancer in the first place.

After I depleted all 14 days of medical leave, I asked to work from home as something as simple as taking public transport could give me an external infection that would kill me. I was lucky my boss allowed me to make such arrangements. 

Working is tough, but to depend on your work for your life, that’s a whole new level. 

I had always heard about people talking about ‘six months of emergency savings’. Now I understood. 

“If you don’t fight, you will never win.”   

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Simple advice. But important.

When my leukemia came back after the first round of treatment, my savings were running dry, and I was no longer covered by any plans. 

I seriously considered giving up, rather than suffer for a battle I might not even win – possibly saddling my parents with unimaginable debt. 

But the thought of leaving them behind was simply too much. Mom and Dad gave everything to give me a life I could be proud of. I wanted to be around to see them through old age. 

With treatment in Singapore no longer an option, I got on a plane to Bumrungrad International hospital in Bangkok for the fight of my life. 

This was my last-ditch attempt at survival, and I had to be really smart with my money. (To further cut on costs, I booked AirBnBs instead of staying in the hospital.)

Bangkok was a lot more affordable than Singapore. But I would very much have liked to have had it done with the support of my loved ones. 

I had to be really strong physically and mentally, because apart from feeling terrible, I had to deal with the unfamiliarity of a different country. 

It took two months of nauseating treatment, but eventually, the doctors gave me the all clear in November 2016. 

What cancer cost me in total 

First round of cancer  $120,000 (CI plan covered $97,000)
Second round of cancer  $78,000
Total cost  $198,000 
Savings I lost  $64,000
My debt after cancer  $41,000

“Be prepared to win – because you might.”

There are plenty of great articles out there that tell you what it’s like to get cancer. I prefer to focus on what happens after you defeat it.

Three years since recovering, I still face the same struggles many salarymen do. I’m still part of the sandwich generation. I’m also figuring out how to deal with rising costs of living. I am still affected by economic cycles. 

Think about it: It would suck to be in massive debt right after overcoming cancer. The stress from all that debt might just cause your cancer to return. 

I was lucky that my bout with cancer only lasted 13 months. Anymore than that, and it would have been incredibly difficult to rebuild my life. 

Your insurance coverage should not just cover your medical expenses. It should provide you with a small fortune to rebuild your life with afterwards. 

Because the world won’t be kinder to you just because you’ve had cancer.

Stay Woke, Salaryman. 

Editor: The Life Insurance Association suggests coverage should be at least 3.9 times your annual income, which assumes a loss of income over five years. 

Assuming your salary is $4,437, you should at least have $242,952 (4437 x 1.17 (CPF) x 12 x 3.9).

If you’re planning your insurance coverage, that’s a good place to start

 

A shout out to our sponsor, FWD Insurance:

 

FWD came up with a standalone cancer insurance (which means it only covers cancer) 

 

Why we like it: 

  • It covers ALL types of cancer at every stage – including the early ones. This is important since cancer is the number one cause of death in Singapore

  • Coverage starts from $7 per month (that’s $84 a year) for $50,000. Pretty affordable. If budget is a concern, this plan is a great way to start.

  • It supplements your existing CI plan. If you already have a CI plan, you can still get this plan to top up your coverage. You can claim from both policies.

  • Your full payout is unlocked at one go – so you’ll have all the cash available to fight cancer at the very start, instead of waiting for your condition to deteriorate. (If you don’t use all of it fighting cancer, you could use the remainder to invest for the future)

  • You can be covered for up to $200,000 with a simple online health declaration without needing medical examination tests or reviewing health records.

What YOU should do before buying it:

  • Consider how you want to use this plan: Is this something you get to protect yourself while you work towards upgrading to a more comprehensive CI plan? Or is this something that you add onto an existing plan to get more protection for cancer? Both are valid options.

  • Understand your health risks. If you have a family history of cancer, this plan would make a lot of sense without costing too much. If heart attack runs in the family, you might want to get a more generic CI plan to cover that instead (there are no stand-alone heart attack plans).

  • Understand that this plan ONLY covers cancer. Yes, cancer is Singapore’s top killer, but diabetes, stroke and heart diseases are all conditions that are equally debilitating.

  • In the long term, you should work towards having decent coverage for all critical illnesses. 

This policy is protected under the Policy Owners’ Protection Scheme which is administered by the Singapore Deposit Insurance Corporation (SDIC). This advertisement is not reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. 

 

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