The Hidden Cost of Cancer | Legacy BlueStar | Sanlam Financial Planners Bellville, Cape Town

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The ‘hidden’ cost of cancer

Cancer affects 40% of South Africans, according to research by Sanlam. Apart from the emotional stress associated with the disease, many people battling cancer admit to being caught off guard by unexpected costs after their diagnosis. At a time when the cost of covering basic living expenses is putting us all under pressure, it is vital to consider necessary protection to guard against the financial implications of cancer.

Often the true financial cost of illnesses such as cancer remain largely undocumented. As a result, many patients and their families are unprepared for the ‘hidden’ expenses associated with the disease. These can include needing a specialised wig or a scarf, comfortable clothes that fit, the petrol to get to appointments and a nourishing diet to support recovery. When going through the emotional challenges associated with a disease such as cancer, adding financial stress to this makes the journey that much more difficult.

Just over 50% of respondents said treatments not covered by medical aid and those over the annual limit were costs that caught them by surprise. Deon Theunis, Head of Distribution Support at Sanlam Individual Life says, “While it’s advisable for people to be prepared with medical aid, gap cover, severe illness cover and other policies, it’s also vital for them to understand the extent of the additional expenses that aren’t directly related to treatment. The full financial picture of the cost of cancer only emerges when one understands these expenses and knows what a policy does and does not cover.” Sanlam’s Cancer Benefit gives clients financial security against unexpected costs, such as travel to treatment centres or employing a carer for you or your children.

costs involved

Here are some estimations of the potential ‘hidden costs’ of cancer:

Hair loss is one of the common side-effects of chemotherapy. PriceCheck suggests human hair wigs cost anything from R600 to R4000 (the average being R1000 – R2000). Some salons give discounts to cancer patients and CANSA distributes wigs made from donated hair free of charge when available. The organisation also has a bank of acrylic wigs for patients to borrow from.

Weight loss is something many cancer patients experience. It’s a good idea to get a few key wardrobe pieces during treatment and recovery that fit and are made from gentle, loose-fitting fabrics. Set aside money for clothes, including a variety of hats, slippers, a dressing gown and pyjamas.

There’s a myriad of advice online regarding the best diet for different kinds of cancers so it’s advisable to speak to a dietitian or doctor about this. Often there’ll be days when a patient won’t feel hungry so it’s good to have healthy snacks and pre-prepared small meals on hand.

Weekly appointments to various doctors and treatment centers can mean a lot of driving around or use of public transport. With the current high petrol prices, it’s advisable to estimate the cost per month as these can add up quickly. Some small towns for instance, do not have cancer specialists. Patients often need to travel longer distances or budget for alternative accommodation to be closer to treatment centers.

Other unexpected costs include general household expenses such as water, electricity and data which are consumed more as patients often spend more time at home. Sanlam’s survey showed that 28% of women who are affected by cancer said they are struggling with household and childcare expenses.

Some patients seek alternative holistic therapies such as acupuncture as part of the recovery process while others may opt to see a psychologist for mental and emotional support. These alternative therapies can be quite expensive and are often not covered by medical aid.

If an illness effects a patient’s mobility or strength, it might be necessary to modify or renovate parts of the home to make it more navigable. Making sure the person’s bedroom and bathroom are on the ground floor is one such example. The scope of these modifications will vary with some being as simple as altering the bathroom floors to be non-slip and adding grab-bars for the shower, bath and toilet.

A live-in carer can cost an average salary of R9899 per month or more. St Luke’s Hospice provides free palliative care to patients and their families – the organisation is funded by donations – including home care, in-ward care and counselling.

Theunis concludes, “While all these expenses can seem overwhelming, being aware of and planning for them can help alleviate financial strain. Severe illness cover is designed to alleviate the financial burden of dealing with cancer so that you and your family can live confidently and focus on your health”.

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