by Tony Copple
When serious problems arise (as they do from time to time in all our lives) I am a bit of a stoic. I treat it like I used to deal with a business issue. I look at it as a challenge, for which there is a least-bad solution, try to remain calm and logical, above all don’t make decisions rashly or without advice, try to keep eating healthily so the brain can operate well.
We had both understood that Laurie-Ann was suffering from a rare and painful skin condition, Hidradenitis Suppurativa, and the latest flare up was a carbuncle on her left breast, making it swell, harden, and a deep red colour. There was talk of mastitis and she had tests including ultrasounds (repeated because they weren’t showing anything). Then Dr Arnold Smith decided to do biopsies on the breast. I was in the room and even took a photo of him at work. Laurie-Ann was a model patient, while I was somewhat stressed as he fired what looked and sounded like a staple gun into the not-so-soft flesh.
We had the cancer diagnosis within a couple of days: inflammatory breast cancer. Dr Smith arranged for us to meet oncologist Dr Hanlie du Toit a few days later in the Cape Gate Oncology Centre, an hour away. When we arrived for the appointment she had already studied all the records and confirmed the diagnosis as stage 3B inflammatory ductal breast cancer. Then she designed a chemotherapy program. Her research and planning gave me a strong confidence in her expertise. She even dictated a letter in our presence recommending that L-A not travel back to Canada at this crucial stage. Later we heard that her husband had been murdered a year or so ago and she was keen to leave this violent country.
I called our travel insurance company, Allianz, and told them. They gave us a new claim number and said we should switch expenses from the existing Hidradenitis Suppurativa claim. Months ago Laurie-Ann had planned a few days break from our missionary work in a small Atlantic town called Yzerfontein (and the village of Paternoster). We decided that despite the new situation we were in, we should go as planned. On our first night there, Allianz called and said that since she had cancer, she must be repatriated to Canada immediately, before chemotherapy, which was set for the following Thursday at Cape Gate. They would pay for business class travel, and also for a travel companion, but that could not be her husband! I asked them would they be arranging the chemo and treatment in Canada, and they said ‘No,’ she should check in to an ER on her arrival. After the call I think we were both in shock. Some of those intentions of mine to remain calm and logical were significantly strained. What on earth should we do? L-A had figured out an estimate of the cost of chemotherapy. We had already paid for the pre-chemo tests, including the 4 days hospitalization. Although these amounts are a lot of money, I knew that we could actually fund them over the coming 6 months by redeeming some of the investments on which our retirement depended. L-A said she said she just wasn’t going. She was emphatic. The core reasons were the trauma of the 19 hour flight when she could relapse without the proper medications, and the thought of being alone in Ottawa without a car or her own home and being at the mercy of an ER that would need to start the process from scratch. A secondary issue was that we couldn’t both leave the country in a couple of days without a trail of destruction behind us; I would have to stay. Then the idea came to her that she should stay for the chemo here, but then we would both return to Canada in March 2020 cutting our mission by 7 months. By then we would have had time to arrange for a smooth transition to the Canadian health service, and she would have the surgery plus radiation if necessary there, and be covered for any possible complications arising.
As an ex insurance agent, I did understand Allianz’s position. But it seemed to me they were not taking account of the fact that this particular cancer had arisen so fast that it was an emergency, requiring immediate attention. Also, travel insurance companies repatriate regardless of the quality and cost of medical services in a country. South Africa, in its private hospitals and other medical services including GPs, offers better quality than Canada at significantly lower cost. Our primary motivation in declining Allianz’s repatriation was to expose Laurie-Ann to the minimum risk to her life. I resolved to be by her side throughout whatever may come now. I felt our relationship growing stronger, as I saw her pain and joined her in prayer. I was grateful that we were on this short break, seeing the bursting out of thousands of flowers that the area is famous for. It did both our hearts a lot of good. We would be together on this journey.
We decided to set up a funding plan, inviting our supporters and friends to help fund the treatment that we would not now be able to claim. We have been highly blessed by the response already, with numbers of kind people responding very generously. More recently it has emerged that Allianz may fund some or all of the treatment up to the point that they placed a ‘limitation of benefits’ on the case – meaning no payout for costs subsequent to that. If this proves to be the case, then our financial situation will stabilize, since we have already received sufficient donations to prevent the need for redeeming investment capital at least for the next month. Since we have a significant line of credit secured against our house, redeeming much capital would lead to having to sell the house.
I include these financial details because a cancer diagnosis has significant implications for one’s personal finances. We must balance prudent financial activity with new medical expenses that in our situation will not be covered by insurance. There is no way we are going to pass up ways of reducing risks to Laurie-Ann’s health. Richard Bendall, my friend with Good News Christian Ministries, has the knowledge and experience to help her have the best nutritional leverage, while the latest in chemotherapy science that we are receiving here does the heavy lifting. With a huge amount of prayer and love added to the mix, and the healing power that raised Jesus from the dead, Laurie-Ann and I really have nothing to worry about.
Tomorrow she goes for the second chemo. Nothing would keep me from going with her, even though there is free transport from Worcester. She may now have very little hair after being shaved at Salon Joan on Monday, but my love for her just gets stronger day by day. This illness brings pain and other very unpleasant side effects, but there are good side effects too. The tangible love of so many supporters and prayer warriors is a powerful healing force. Yesterday a group of them held a prayer vigil in St. Paul’s Kanata that we witnessed on YouTube - see the photos above. My involvement in all of this is a rare privilege and just being with her night and day beings joy to me every minute. Anything she wants that I can bring is hers, and with no sense of chore. After 20 years we have learned how to love each other to the full. How good is that!
For info on the our private medical crowdfunding campaign, please visit our medical page (the financial info will be updated after paying for the second treatment and oncology visit):
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Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple (usually Laurie-Ann)
L-A's devotional blog
TONY'S DEVOTIONAL BLOG
Tony's south african journal
TONY'S POST MISSION JOURNAL