Leukaemia and lymphoma are two of the most prevalent cancers in children in South Africa with between 800 and 1000 children diagnosed annually. Tragically, it is estimated that half of the children with cancer in this country are never diagnosed.
Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer at Sanlam, believes that we all need to educate ourselves so we can recognise the symptoms of cancer and ensure we have the correct cover in place to safeguard against the financial implications. “As the adage goes, hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.”
Below, Dr Morkel explains what can be done in the fight against leukaemia and lymphoma.
- Knowledge is key
It is important that you are aware of the symptoms related to leukaemia and lymphoma so that you can notify your health professional should you see these symptoms in your child.
Leukaemia is the most common childhood cancer accounting for 25% of all cases in South Africa. Symptoms include bone and joint pain, fatigue, weakness, bleeding, fever and weight loss.
Lymphoma primarily originates from the lymph nodes and can often appear like any other illness that triggers an inflammatory response. Symptoms to look out for include swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit or groin, weight loss, fever, sweats and weakness.
While there are other childhood illnesses that can present in the same manner as leukaemia and lymphoma, health professionals have been trained to look out for symptoms that persists after routine treatment and will conduct tests to rule out the possibility of these childhood blood related cancers. Parents are encouraged to consult their doctor if there are any concerns about their child’s health.
- Register to become a blood stem cell (bone marrow) donor
The Sunflower Fund is a non-profit organisation that fights blood diseases through a blood stem cell transplant which replaces a person’s defective stem cells with healthy ones and can be a potentially life-saving treatment for more than 70 different diseases.
Kim Webster, Head of Communications at The Sunflower Fund advises that finding a matching donor for a stem cell transplant is not as easy as finding a blood type match. There is only a 1:100 000 chance of a patient finding their life-saving match with siblings only having a 25% chance of a match.
You can register to become a donor online via www.sunflowerfund.org.
- Ensure preparedness
When it comes to analysing the costs associated with childhood cancer, all cancers are considered as Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB) in South Africa, which means that medical aids have to pay the most essential costs linked to the management of the disease. However, unfortunately, due to the complexity of childhood cancers and the needed treatments, some of chemotherapy drugs are very expensive and often exceed the benefit amount that a medical aid is legally required to cover.
There are only a few specialised childhood cancer centres in Southern Africa which often means that one or both parents have to relocate with the child for the duration of the treatment which impacts on working arrangements, finding suitable accommodation and travelling costs. Medical aid might not be able to cover all the expenses in terms of chemotherapy treatment as well as the additional costs associated such as travelling costs, accommodation and relocating to be closer to a treatment centre.
Dr Morkel explains that Sanlam offers a Child Illness and Injury benefit which pays a lump sum if your child is diagnosed with a defined dread disease, injury, impairment, or infection including leukaemia and lymphoma. It will also help cover additional costs like travel to treatment centres, employing a carer for other children and missed workdays.
“This cover is available from a child’s first birthday until he or she reaches age 19, so children can be covered throughout their school years. Sanlam also offers the Child Protector rider benefit on certain income protector policies which provide six monthly income payments if your child suffers a serious health event.”