Richard Wright has survived a rare form of pituitary cancer four times. Little is known about this specific cancer other than it is almost invariably terminal. He has written a book about his exceptional journey and harrowing fight against a terminal diagnosis at age 46, when he was told that he would be unlikely to see out six more months. That was in 2016.
Seven years later, and right now, Richard is still battling this disease. While the brain cancer is no longer in remission, it is stable, thanks in part to a very expensive trial drug – not yet covered by his medical scheme – and Richard’s absolute mental focus, grit and determination to be around to look after his two daughters. The emotional, physical, psychological and financial toll on him and his family since his first diagnosis has been unimaginable.
In between fighting terminal brain cancer, life still happens. An armed robbery at home, the stresses of being a self-employed professional speaker and athlete, a pandemic that blew the speaker circuit out of the water (and Richard’s income) for almost three years, debilitating financial strain, massive medical bills for trial drugs, and having to work and bring in an income even when you feel like hell.
Since his first diagnosis, and through sheer grit and determination and the power of his mind, Richard completed four full Iron Man races while undergoing aggressive cancer treatment. As an endurance athlete, he was accepted into a research program with John Hopkins, studying the effect of vigorous exercise on cancer. This gave him the big push he needed to fight back.
“If I could do this and complete the Iron Man, I could reassure my girls that their dad was going to be OK,” explains Richard.
“Fighting cancer is like no other disease – it is unknown, unpredictable, ruthless and indiscriminate. It has no regard for age, gender, state of health, income, fitness or any other consideration for that matter. My diagnosis was a bombshell. As an athlete, my health has always been a priority. I kept thinking there is no way this can be happening to me. But it was, and it still is,” explains Richard.
Richard’s cancer journey has been profoundly life-changing on two key fronts – emotionally and financially. Circumstances that unfolded years before also played a role – the 2008-2010 market crash all but decimated the real estate market where Richard had a thriving career. Soon after, he went through a divorce and costly legal custody battles. Financially things were dire, and Richard had little choice but to cancel all insurance covers like critical illness and life cover, retaining only his medical scheme benefit as an absolute essential. The intention was to reinstate these covers as soon as he got back on his feet. As life would have it though, Richard was diagnosed with terminal cancer before cover was reinstated.
“I was in the mental and emotional hell of dealing with a diagnosis of terminal cancer, realising that I had no financial safety net whatsoever for me or my family. I simply could not afford NOT to live. And the harsh reality now is that I will never get any form of life or critical illness insurance in future again, given my cancer diagnosis. It’s difficult to define the trauma that comes with a cancer diagnosis and the manner in which it strips away your independence and control over your life in terms of health and financial position – the uncertainty is hugely debilitating. Few people understand this side of cancer unless they have been there personally.
After beating all odds and going into remission after his first round of treatment, Richard’s cancer returned in February 2017. “While my medical scheme paid for a lot of my treatment, it did not cover the trial drug treatment that I was on. It was a big part of my recovery and survival past a six-month prognosis, and it came with a massive price tag.”
After round two of the treatment, Richard was in remission for the second time by December 2017.
In March 2018, Richard started to tell his story on the professional speaker circuit – The Enrichment Project. And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Every single speaking engagement Richard had lined up was cancelled and his income was once again precarious – but at least he was in remission.
By July 2021, the cancer was back again. Richard would go on another six-month treatment regimen on a chemotherapy trial drug at a cost of R180k, having to find the funds to foot the bill not covered by his medical scheme.
For now, Richard’s cancer is stable as long he remains on the trial drug, but it’s still about a year until this drug is registered and hopefully covered by his medical scheme. It’s a case of having to find the money to fund this treatment or face the very real likelihood that Richard won’t be around to care for his daughters. It is this singular purpose and focus that drives Richard to smash the odds stacked against him, every time.
“I need to keep fighting, keep going, keep telling my story and positively impact the lives of others by focusing on my ultimate purpose – being a dad to my precious girls. I’ve beaten brain cancer four times now and I’ve seen the absolute worst of it. It is only once you’ve lived with cancer, that you fully appreciate the value of good insurance, and the massive difference it makes when you’re in a battle for your life,” says Richard.
Closing the cancer insurance gap
It is the real, lived experience of people like Richard Wright that resonate with Brad Toerien and Gareth Quin who founded South Africa’s very first cancer-specific insurance solution – Aynjil Cancer Insurance. Their quest to find a solution to the financial crisis people typically find themselves in when faced with a cancer diagnosis was informed by the very personal experience of close family and friends.
“Cancer is different to other critical illnesses – there is a vast difference between the costs and needs when it comes to treating, living with and recovering from cancer, versus that of say a heart bypass for example. It warrants a more specialised focus given its far reaching and long-term implications for your quality of life, emotional and psychological state, recovery and risk of relapse, and all the related additional costs that go with that. The financial repercussions of cancer are also much wider than treatment costs alone. Aynjil Cancer Insurance closes this gap. It is similar to critical illness cover, but it is specialised and solely focused on cancer, which means a much lower monthly premium as the costs that come with insuring a broader range of critical illnesses are removed. There is also no medical underwriting required. You can opt for a fixed amount of cover up to R2 million – and the policy pays out the full sum insured in a lump sum, upon any confirmed cancer diagnosis, regardless of stage or type of cancer. In addition to the lump sum cover, Aynjil also provides a suite of added-value, cancer-specific benefits that provide support for both medical and non-medical expenses that are unique to the recovery journey,” explains Brad.
What makes Aynjil Cancer Insurance different?
- No Medical underwriting – The only conditions of cover are that the insured does not currently have, or has had cancer before, or have two immediate family members who were diagnosed with cancer under the age of 60.
- Cover for those previously denied or uninsured – For people with non-cancer-related health issues that may make getting or increasing cover on medically underwritten critical illness cover difficult or costly, Aynjil cancer insurance provides peace of mind for one of the most claimed for conditions under all critical illness policies, at a very affordable premium.
- Ideal entry point for the first-time insured – Aynjil is an ideal first life insurance policy for younger people who want to take care of their cancer risk without the hefty costs of comprehensive life and CI cover.
- Cancer affects the whole family – you may find yourself unable to fulfil household and parental responsibilities, spouses/partners may have to take time off work and you may have to hire additional child or nursing care to assist you. Aynjil’s cancer-specific benefits includes cover for counselling, a chauffer to assist with travel to and from treatments, as well as tutor and au pair services to help lighten the load of parental/family responsibilities.
- Get a Medical Second Opinion – a Medical Second Opinion service that could change your diagnosis, your treatment plan and improve your health outcomes. You receive professional, clinical case management to help to keep costs down as well as direct access to the world’s best medical minds and treatment facilities.
- There is a high chance of relapse – which also means prolonged financial and emotional distress. Aynjil cancer cover continues for the rest of your life after your cancer diagnosis. Should the same cancer return, it pays out a relapse benefit at a further 25% of the main benefit value. With reinstatement, you can claim the full insured amount on a second, unrelated cancer.
- A perfect top-up cover – Aynjil also works well as top-up cover, strengthening any existing critical illness cover in place with the added-value cancer-specific benefits and additional payments. You can also rebalance and save money by reducing thecritical illness cover and adding cancer-specific insurance.
- Easy, quick online application – cover is available from R500 000 to R2 million and application is completed in 3 minutes, online.
“Our key objective is to close the cancer insurance protection gap for South Africans with a niche, highly focused and affordable solution that provides peace of mind for when you are most vulnerable, and need to focus every effort and thought on one thing – your recovery – rather than how you will afford it,” concludes Brad.