Life begins at…

Fiona Holmes copyBy Fiona Holmes, proposition communications manager

Having reached a certain age (it’s the new 40 by the way), I’m having to come to terms with the fact that my peers and I aren’t as immune from illness or death as we’d like to think.

That’s the problem with 30 being the new 20 and 40 the new 30; when you reach your 50s and you’ve gone through life relatively unscathed, you really start to think you’re invincible. But then things happen around you and you realise that’s not quite the case.

At the risk of sounding like my mother-in-law, whose main topic of conversation is illness, death and funerals, in the space of six months an old university friend died from cancer, another friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer and a good friend has just been diagnosed with breast cancer.

While my immediate thoughts are with those friends and their families, I can’t help but think I’m glad I held on to my critical illness policy. Working in the protection industry I’m only too aware of the need for cover should the worst happen but there have been times over the years when I’ve toyed with the idea of cancelling it. It’s the usual ‘It won’t happen to me’ scenario. But I never thought it would happen to those friends and it has.

A few weeks ago my friend with breast cancer was lying on a beach in Thailand without a care in the world. Next week she’ll undergo a mastectomy and breast reconstruction and she will endure at least four months of treatment. This is life-changing stuff and something neither she nor her family were prepared for.

I hope she’ll be fine financially, but emotionally it’s hard to say how she will cope. According to Macmillan Cancer Support, 45 per cent of people with cancer say the emotional effects of the illness are the most difficult to cope with, compared to the physical and practical aspects.¹

It’s statistics like those that make you realise just how important added value services like Royal London’s Helping Hand are. In our experience, the emotional and practical support a customer received through Helping Hand has often been more of a lifeline than their actual payout.

While improvements in cancer treatment mean more people are surviving or living longer following their illness, all too often the stress of managing everyday life following diagnosis and treatment is huge, with the psychological and emotional impact continuing long after the cancer itself is treated.

The number of people living with cancer in the UK is increasing by 3.2 per cent every year. If this rate continues, this could see four million people living with cancer by 2030.² Cuts in NHS spending, lack of aftercare service and the psychological impact of being diagnosed with a critical illness all bring with them a need for added value services like Helping Hand.

So as I embrace my half century – and no, it isn’t all about varifocals and cruise ships – I hope I’ll never have to make a claim on my critical illness cover. But knowing it’s there, with additional support services that I could call on if needed, gives me peace of mind. After all, we never know what life’s going to throw at us.

¹ Worried Sick: The Emotional Impact of Cancer. Research for Macmillan Cancer Support conducted by Opinion Leader Research. 2006.

² Internal analysis by Macmillan Cancer Support. Taken from and based on Maddams J, et al. Cancer prevalence in the UK: estimates 2008. British Journal of Cancer. 2009. 101: 541-547.