Sometimes it can be a pleasant surprise to discover that you took out an insurance policy years ago. That was certainly the case for Independent reader Sandra Skeels.
It's been a hell of a year for Sandra, to say the least. Back in January the 50-year-old from Peterborough was celebrating the birth of her first grandchild. A week later she was sitting stunned in a doctor's surgery after being told she had breast cancer.
"Your life can change suddenly from one day to the next," she says. "For me it was joy one week when our granddaughter Lacey was born and then, a week later, my husband and I were reeling from the shock of the diagnosis."
She had surgery on the tumour just a few days later and her treatment continued three months later with a few weeks' worth of radiotherapy.
The whole process meant taking five months off from her job with a foreign exchange company and, even now, she's only working part-days after being rushed to hospital last month with pneumonia.
Spending time with her granddaughter has been a real highlight of 2014. "She's a little character now," says Sandra. But there's been little else to cheer her as she has been forced to cope with the surgery and treatment.
In May, however, when things were a little quieter, she recalled taking out a critical illness policy years ago. "It was when we remortgaged in 2002 but I had forgotten all about it," she admits.
"I had to check on our bank statement to see if we were still paying the premiums and there it was, £18 a month to Aviva." The next step was to dig through her old papers to find the policy and see what it covered.
"I had no idea whether I could claim for my illness so eventually rang up the insurer," Sandra says. "They were really helpful and told me what details I needed to send to make a claim."
The net result a few weeks later was that Sandra was paid out £17,000. "The money is a real help. We haven't spent it but have used it as a reassuring buffer that we've put to one side. It means that if I need to take more time out of work because of my health, we now have the financial security to be able to do so."
The point of the story? Few of us bother to take out protection insurance, but when it's needed it can prove a godsend. It isn't all that costly but can help stop an upsetting medical crisis becoming a financial one too.
Sandra has a hell of a week to come. She will be back at the hospital on Tuesday to find out if the cancer is in remission. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for good news for her.
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