Marie has had two experiences of breast cancer: early breast cancer in 2010 and a diagnosis of metastatic (secondary, advanced) breast cancer in 2015. Both experiences had a big financial impact on her family. Marie found that asking for help to claim her superannuation under total and permanent disability (TPD) and life provisions was a significant help to her and her family as they live with metastatic breast cancer:
It's given me back choices and options.
When she was first diagnosed with early breast cancer in 2010, Marie, her husband and her two teenage daughters were ‘the good sort of busy’ – Marie working as a consultant, her husband also working full-time and the girls were in high school. As a consultant, Marie was self-employed and had no sick leave. The family went from being a two income family to a one income family, which was challenging for them:
We've always been a two income family, we've always made life decisions around two incomes. I saw the stress on my husband's face knowing that now he was really the only breadwinner, and that was very worrying for me as I didn’t want this diagnosis to affect my family financially too.
Marie made a strong recovery from her early breast cancer and returned to work:
I just felt at the time I was one of the lucky ones. It didn't take long before I went back to work because I was well enough at the end of my treatment so I felt ready emotionally and knew it would make a difference financially to my family - so I went back to work and picked up some more contracts.
Life returned to the good sort of busy. The family continued their normal lives which also buying a new house. However, less than a year after settling into their new home, Marie received the unfortunate news that she had metastatic breast cancer. This time, the financial strain of Marie not being able to work was worse:
We're in this new home with a large debt and now I've got metastatic breast cancer. So that was just horrible. I was feeling over my head - that was really affecting me more than the actual cancer was. So these were all things that really scared me, just hung on me going, ‘Oh my god, I'm going to be forced to go back to work but I'm self-employed and I need to be in front of a client and I'm not ready. And what if I don't have hair and they can see that I'm sick,’ and so there was a lot of pressure about returning back to work and normality and getting an income. I didn't want that pressure, and my husband certainly didn't want me to go back to work earlier than I was ready.
Marie was particularly worried about how the financial burden was affecting her family:
Although my husband was encouraging me to stay home and “heal” I would see him come home from work and I could see the heaviness under his eyes. I could see behind the smile the pressure that he would feel as a father and as a husband.
Marie knew she could access her superannuation through the TPD provision as she read it on the BCNA website. However, she knew she would need to do a lot of paperwork to make the claim and was worried that she wouldn’t have the energy to do it. Through her professional networks, Marie had a contact who was able to give her specialist advice and help:
I said to her, ‘I need your help. I need to access my super. I don't know if I've got the energy to do all this because I've got to keep doing chemo, but I need to do this.’ In the back of my mind I felt that as a mother I needed to prepare my family, and preparing my family was about accessing whatever money is available. Maybe not use it, but for it to be there in case something happened to me. I needed to take that pressure off all of us. My friend said to me, ‘All I need for you to do is to find what companies you've got super with, and I want you to ring them and ask the following questions.’ She gave me what I had to ask. I had to get all that written down in a spreadsheet for her and then her role was to go and look at the fine print and help me with my forms.
Having an expert to help her meant that the process of claiming TPD across her different superannuation accounts was straightforward. Marie’s doctors were also helpful in this process. She felt she had a great team behind her:
You need a great team to support you. You need somebody to steer it. I'm very grateful that I had the help.
When her TPD claims came through, Marie and her family felt a great sense of relief and empowerment:
When the claims finally came through it was such a relief. I saw my husband's face change. It gave me options regarding work choices if I choose to work or not or choose to go part time. The money's there if I need to access it, and that was such a great feeling. I am now living with a sense of peace in my heart. It has also empowered me to have the option to return to work. So when my daughter, who's getting married next year, says to me, ‘I'm getting married,’ I'm not feeling I'm not going to be able to support her. I feel empowered to be able to support and to do what I dreamt to do - support the girls by giving them a great start in life I'm now able to still do all those things. I feel very happy that my decisions are going to be the same as I intended pre-cancer.
While living with metastatic breast cancer is stressful and challenging, having the financial worry removed has been a big help for Marie and allows her to focus on her health rather than worrying about money:
My stress and my anxiety is not financial any more. My stress and anxiety are relating to my illness, whether, you know, I'm going to live a long life. It’s bad enough dealing with the actual illness and the fear of not knowing what's next.
Marie encourages other people in her situation to get the help they need to claim their entitlements because the peace of mind that comes from reducing financial worries is worth it:
My advice is, you're entitled to it: you're not asking for anything that's not yours. If it's there and if you feel that it's going to give you choices and peace of mind while you're still alive, access it and do it. And if you feel this is too much for you to do, find somebody who is knowledgeable enough and able to be an advocate for you.