When Kim Gillot was unexpectedly diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in her early 30s, she had the policies in place to cover the cost of her recovery
The only reason Kim Gillot noticed a lump in her breast was because she ran into a shower door in 2017. “I heard the phone ringing, and as I rushed out of the shower to answer it, I bumped into the door,” the 36-year-old from Durban explains. “Then I did what most women would do in the same situation: I swore and grabbed my breast.”
That’s when she felt the lump for the first time. Initially she was in denial – and for two weeks she ignored it. It was only after a bout of severe food poisoning from a dodgy chicken burger that she went to her GP.
A week later, her GP told her the tests showed that her cancer markers were slightly elevated, but she shouldn’t be too concerned: she was only 32 and didn’t have any family history of breast cancer, so it was probably nothing. “But I insisted on getting a mammogram. Call it women’s intuition,” Kim adds.
About a week later, she had a mammogram and ultrasound that picked up an abnormality. “Luckily, I managed to get an appointment with one of the best breast surgeons in Durban relatively quickly, and he did a biopsy on 23 February.”
Kim was sitting in her car when the doctor phoned her with the results: she had aggressive stage 2 hormone-positive breast cancer. “I suppose part of me knew – like I said before: women’s intuition – but when the doctor said it out loud … the world stopped. I dropped the phone and cried for what felt like forever.
Her final tests results indicated that her cancer was both oestrogen receptor-positive (ER+) and progesterone receptor-positive (PR+). “I got a distinction on my cancer test,” Kim jokes.
Her doctors determined that between her first test and final one, her tumour had grown from a stage ½ to stage 2. “I had surgery to remove the tumour within a week of my final biopsy. Having done it that soon is what ultimately saved me.”
While the surgery was a success, Kim still had a long road ahead. In April 2017, she had tubal ligation surgery – a surgical procedure to permanently block or remove the fallopian tubes to prevent pregnancy – because a surge in hormones brought on by pregnancy would be catastrophic, her doctors explained.
Kim says she and her partner at the time didn’t want kids, but she still felt conflicted because it took away her choice to have children.
She also had three rounds of chemotherapy treatment, receiving high doses of adriamycin, a powerful cancer drug that’s also known as the “red devil” because of its bright-red colour and nasty side-effects. “Chemo is not like in the movies,” Kim explains. “I lost my hair. I felt sick constantly. The short- and long-term side-effects strip you of everything. I was completely depleted.”
Kim was physically unable to continue with a fourth round of chemo, and her doctors opted for aggressive radiation. “It’s like cooking 2-minute noodles. They put you in a big microwave for a few minutes and you leave feeling exhausted. I had to do this five days a week for seven weeks. It was tiring and painful.”
After her radiation treatment, she received hormone-therapy implants for 18 months to keep her oestrogen levels “as low as humanly allowed”, Kim says. “This aged me 20-odd years.” Due to her treatments, Kim had chemically induced menopause – as well as the side-effects that usually come with it.
In November 2019, instead of continuing with the hormone-therapy regimen, Kim had a hysterectomy. “Looking back now, I know it reduces my risk, but it left me feeling broken, like there was a hole or something missing. Children are your legacy, and I sometimes wonder what my legacy will be.”
Kim’s cancer diagnosis, and the effects of the resulting treatments, also meant that she had to put her career on hold. She was the personal assistant to the Regional General Manager (RGM) of Old Mutual, but she was put on temporary disability leave. “They’re holding my role until such time my doctors deem me fit to return to a working environment full-time.”
Kim also suffered personal setbacks during this time. Her partner cheated on her, and she ended the relationship. And her RGM, who was incredibly supportive during this time, unexpectedly passed away. “We had big plans for our region. It was a massive blow at the time,” she says.
The one thing she didn’t have to worry about was how she was going to pay for her recovery. At the end of May 2017, her Illness insurance from Old Mutual paid her a single amount.
Kim says. “Financial stress can kill a person on its own, and cancer thrives off of stress, so it helped a lot.” Kim has medical aid, but her payout meant she didn’t have to worry about upfront payments or shortfalls.
She explains that cancer comes with a whole host of side-effects and to treat these, you often pay out of pocket. “When I did my tax return, I saw that I had spent about R200 000 in nine months on medical treatments. Who just has that amount of money lying around?”
She also didn’t have to worry about the costs of treatments not covered by her medical aid. “I didn’t have to think twice before getting a treatment or test done,” she adds.
Kim’s reasons for taking out this policy were two-fold. When she was 20, her mother had a stroke. “I remember how hard my dad had to work to cover the medical bills.”
And after a smash-and-grab in August 2016, she realised she was underinsured.
“We should all review our policies more regularly,” she adds. Working in the financial services industry herself, she found Old Mutual’s Illness insurance to be the best fit for her.
Kim is still on the road to recovery, and she has “aches and pains, additional conditions and old-lady problems”, but she remains positive.
- This testimonial does not constitute financial advice.
- Old Mutual Life Assurance Company (SA) Limited is a licensed FSP and Life Insurer.
It’s cover that pays a tax-free single amount from R100 000 to R6 million (risk-profile and illness-severity dependent) if you have a severe illness such as cancer, a heart attack or a stroke. You can use this to cover rehabilitation costs, travel expenses to treatment centres, modifications to your home or car and day-to-day expenses while taking time off from work to recover.
Personalise your cover by adding additional benefits at an extra cost, like:
Pays the full cover amount for specific illnesses. Includes a Lifestyle Enhancer which pays double the cover amount if your quality of life is severely impacted by an accidental brain injury, coma, heart attack, paralysis or a stroke and you can no longer care for yourself.
Returning illness benefit
Pays up to 50% of the cover amount for returning severe illnesses such as cancer, heart attack or stroke after the full cover amount has already been paid.
For women benefit
Pays up to 50% of the cover amount for fertility-related conditions and complications during pregnancy.
And you can get rewarded for being physically and financially fit through the Old Mutual Rewards programme.
To get Old Mutual Illness insurance today, speak to a financial adviser, call 0860 60 60 60 or visit oldmutual.co.za/illness for more info and the T&Cs.