You can make a difference

Samantha Galliet is best known as “that woman who took on Discovery”. Diagnosed with breast cancer at 29, Galliet faced a woman’s worst nightmare. She had a particularly aggressive strain of breast cancer called Her2.

Fortunately for Galliet there had been a breakthrough in drug therapy for this type of cancer and her chances of survival were dramatically increased by the availability of a new drug called Herceptin. She grabbed media headlines when her medical aid, Discovery Health, would not pay for the year’s medical treatment that she required, saying it would only provide six weeks treatment or the R80 000 it had allocated for cancer treatment.

Galliet took on the big boys and won and she believes that it all comes down to personal power and being your own advocate. “The lesson I learnt was that you can do anything you set your mind to doing.” She has certainly proven that an individual can make a difference. Galliet has now started a non-profit organisation called Pink Link, a breast cancer advocacy group, and gives motivational talks on being your own advocate.

Galliet describes advocacy as “the thinking women’s activism”. She is challenging legislation that only allows women with breast cancer 36 days sick leave, but offers 120 days maternity leave for pregnancy. She is also working with medical aids and life companies to come up with specific cover for breast cancer. With one in eight women at risk for breast cancer and one in four South Africans at risk for some form of cancer, this is becoming a very real problem.

However, Galliet argues that while it is important to take on the macro issues, real advocacy starts with individuals taking control of their lives, something she believes women are not very good at. “We have become so powerful in many areas, but we are not our own advocates. We tend to help everyone but ourselves.”

She believes that women take a head-in-the-sand approach to problems and only deal with the issues when they become real. Galliet is very passionate about the need for women to become more financially aware, especially around risk cover. She was fortunate to have taken out dread disease cover, which paid out when she became ill. “I never really thought about it. When I was 22 an insurance salesman sold me life cover and suggested I add on dread disease just in case. It was only R25 so I went with it.” Galliet never thought she would ever need it, but when she was unable to work for six months due to chemotherapy and lost her job, it was a life saver. Galliet says that most people are living just one or two pay cheques away from insolvency. Without the money to pay the bond or buy food they find themselves in deep trouble.

According to Discovery Life, when it comes to life cover and disability, only one-third of its clients are women. Women have even less cover for dread disease and only make up 20% of clients with dread disease cover. According to Dr Sally Phillips of Discovery Life, women who stay at home to raise a family are the most underinsured as they assume they do not need cover because they do not generate an income. They forget about the additional costs that are incurred when a member of the family falls ill. “They don’t know the consequences of the inevitable financial lifestyle changes such as increased time off work, providing care for kids and paying a driver.”

Galliet’s case highlighted the point that medical aids do not always cover the latest technology, which might only be available overseas or the latest drugs that may not yet be approved by the medical council.

New drugs come with hefty price tags. Galliet’s treatment costs R360 000 and medical aids are going to start making exclusions. This new type of cancer, Her2, is becoming more prevalent across a variety of cancers, not only breast cancer. In fact, many women who have breast cancer may not even know they have the Her2 variety unless they have specifically tested for it. Pharmaceutical companies are developing new treatments to deal with this cancer, which could see chemotherapy become obsolete — but the price tags are making medical aids nervous. If there is a move by medical aids to limit price increases by excluding these drugs, then without dread disease cover, you may not be able to afford to save your life.

“When you are fighting for your life, the last thing you want to be worrying about is money. You just want to focus on getting better, yet women will spend R300 on a pair of shoes and not spend anything on risk cover,” says Galliet.

Keep the powerful accountable

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Maya Fisher French
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