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20 Aug 2017

Cancer. All of us, somewhere along the line, have or will come into contact with it. A family member, friend, or a distant work colleague; quietly appearing one day with a buzz cut or a scarf tied around their head.

“Cancer affects all of us, whether you’re a daughter, mother, sister, friend, coworker, doctor, or patient.” – Jennifer Aniston

Until we see it up close like that, it can be easy to pretend it isn’t real. That we and the ones we love are somehow immune to the disease. It can be easy to allow ourselves to think: that won’t happen to me. Not to my family. The shock that they too could be just as vulnerable as everybody else.

Lifesaving medical advances

Medicine has advanced enormously over the last fifty years. Vaccines, antibiotics, organ transplants, X-rays, keyhole surgery (to name a few). All of it lengthening the life expectancy of the average kiwi adult to approximately 81 years. A far cry from the 1950s, which saw the average male living only until his mid-late 60s and the average female just passing her 70th birthday.

Cancer treatments too have come a long way. Meaning that now days being diagnosed with cancer, in a lot of cases, is the just beginning in a journey to get well. Like actress Jennifer Saunders famously said of her dealings with breast cancer “I don’t call it a battle, it’s a process you go through and I try…to de-catastrophise the process. It’s a cure you go through and you try and get better.”

In New Zealand, we are lucky. Via the public health system we have access to free medical care. A lifesaver for those who don’t have health insurance or don’t have the finances to pay for private treatment.

Choosing to opt for private treatment is usually done so as to avoid any possible delay. When it comes to beginning cancer treatment it’s a case of ‘the sooner the better’. But if you do choose to pay your own way in order to speed things up, what kind of costs are you looking at?

According to NZMedical.com the cost of surgery relating to prostate cancer ranges between $28,000 and $30,000 and the cost of breast cancer surgery ranges more widely from $12,000 to $22,000. A lot of money to come up with at short notice and even more so considering the potential loss in income due to illness. Will it mean clearing out your savings account? Cancelling that family holiday to Fiji? Or maybe even selling your house?

Private Health Insurance can be a great option, however depending on your plan, you may not be covered for all of your treatment costs and you may need to pay an excess. Cigna Cancer Cover offers a lump sum payment to put towards the cost of treatment, or whatever you like.

As well as the surgery costs there are also the added extras that accumulate even if you opt for publicly funded care. Things like take home medications, mobility equipment and even cosmetic accessories like wigs for those undergoing chemotherapy.

Through the Ministry of Health, it is possible to claim up to $408.00 to put towards the cost of a wig or headpiece for temporary hair loss, but seeing as most human hair wigs (the more natural option) start at around $2,000 that still leaves a large sum of money to find at short notice. It may mean the difference between feeling comfortable in your own skin or feeling self-conscious while you undergo treatment. If you have some form of cover, such as Cigna Cancer Cover, you may have more options available to assist with this.

As well as dealing with a cancer diagnoses and beginning the long road to recovery, there is also the impact of cancer on your finances. If you are sick you may not be able to work You may require someone to take time off work and take care of you, while you recover, either way this can make a huge dent in the savings account and even mean living on a reduced or single income; something that can be a struggle for most families.

What would you do if you were diagnosed with cancer and suddenly unable to work? How vital is your financial contribution to the running of the home? The mortgage or rent?

If you needed to leave your job in order to get well, what impact would that have on your future income? Would you find it hard to get back on the career ladder?

Throughout New Zealand there are a number of public hospitals. Most of these are situated in major cities; which means to seek treatment, travel costs may be another factor you will have to consider. Some of the costs associated with travelling to and from medical appointments can be reimbursed, as well as accommodation costs if you need to stay overnight. Though sometimes the real cost is considering who is left behind.

If one child is sick, who stays behind at home to look after the others? Does that mean the other parent takes more time off work to fill in the gaps at home, leading to more loss in family income?

“We were lucky to receive assistance when it came to the traveling side.” Says Sophia, mother of three. “But it was hard on everyone. If we’d had access to a lump sum payment, hiring a nanny to help out while I was away would have definitely been on the list.”

Sometimes it’s not just financial expenses that can leave long-lasting results, it’s also the strain on family relationships and the loss of important family memories. Birthday parties, holidays, family outings and festivities all may become too difficult or expensive to organise when a family member is sick.

“I found one of the hardest things was cancelling the family holiday.” Says Tim, Father of two. “It’s always been such a great time for us as a family but with me being off sick and my wife home to support me, we just couldn’t afford it.”


When there is an unexpected drop in family income, it can be the things we look forward to that are the first to be struck off the list. When you have access to a lump sum payment like that which is provided through Cigna Cancer Cover, it gives you back the option of sharing those special times with loved ones.

Another expense to consider is that of counselling services. For many, accepting that they have a disease is only the beginning, there is also the added pressure to remain strong for their loved ones. Many find speaking with someone outside of their family hugely beneficial to the treatment process.

“Men don’t usually talk about their feelings, especially not kiwi men,” Says Ryan. “I found it really helpful to talk to someone outside of my family and circle of friends, tell them how I was really feeling, admit I was afraid.”

When it comes down to it, cancer is expensive in more ways than one. It can cause you and your family to live on a single or reduced income. It can mean you may need to quit your job until you are well enough to look for another, which can take time. It might mean you put other plans on hold; that healthy savings account air-marked for your next home may be reduced to zeros. Maybe it would mean selling your dream house and down sizing so that you are able to fund your medical care.

In some cases the costs may not be financial at all. They may be emotional; missing out on family events: birthday parties, holidays, regular family outings. Memories you won’t get to make.

But we can all agree the most important thing when it comes to cancer is surviving it. If you have the means to support yourself and fund your treatment then you have a better chance at beating cancer at its own game. It’s best to be prepared.

If considering some form of insurance there are terms and condition, so take the time to understand and read the policy wordings.