I’ve spent the last 5 months supporting my ex- domestic helper through advanced cervical cancer FIGO stage 3A, we eventually flew in her husband the last month to be her caregiver and to escort her safely back home. What she thought was an early onset of menopause was actually advanced cervical cancer.
The ordeal also made me realise the severe lack of information/resources to help navigate this. I called several NGOs, Fair Agency and Helper’s Choice who are big advocates for helpers. Everyone I spoke to told me they didn’t have any advice as in situations like these – most people send their helpers home with/without some form of compensation.
Everyone’s situation looks different so there really isn’t a framework on what to do and one has to do what works for the family, while figuring out how to best support the helper.
I did without help for 5 months and supported Norma through her treatment in between school drop off and pick ups, joining her doctor’s appointments whenever I could. We kept her on payroll. Helpers like everyone else according to labour laws are entitled to maximum 120days of sick leave. In her last month of treatment, as she needed help to make it to and from the hospital, we flew her husband over as caregiver and to escort her home safely December 28.
As the oncologists advised plenty of rest for recovery, she was not medically fit for work and decided to return home to be with her family (she left with assistance, in a wheelchair I have no capacity to become a caregiver on top of everything else).
I reached out to another Mum who had a similar situation, they hired a second helper to help with childcare of two children and assist their helper with advance cancer in treatment. This was during Covid so there was no school/online learning and both parents were working from home, so the logistics were a little more simple with no business trips and there were enough adults in the household to hold the fort while her helper received treatment at the hospital. This is of course not always possible in everyone’s circumstances to accommodate 2 helpers in Hong Kong apartments and to pay both helpers, on top of mounting medical bills.
There are plenty of grey areas in the employment laws and unfortunately not in favour of domestic helpers. You might be familiar with the high profile case of Baby Jane Allas, I’m sure many other cases have fallen through the cracks and the severe lack of information hasn’t helped employers nor helpers on how to deal with a crisis like this.
I reached out to the Karen Leung Foundation to understand more about cervical cancer, the treatment plans and recovery, along with clinical trials that are being done. Grateful that the Hong Kong government kindly granted Norma’s husband an extended visa to stay in Hong Kong as caregiver after a flurry of calls on my end with the oncologists and immigration department.
Our helpers are the pillars of the household and I am painfully aware that the privilege and flexibility in my life is because I have help. I think it would be in everyone’s interests to make sure their “aunties” are in the pink of health, have adequate rest and access to Hong Kong’s great public healthcare system.
Everyone’s circumstances are different and everyone has different budgets, struggles and priorities and we all do the best we can – to do the right thing and be a good human being. There are no laws and rules around how to manage this, so here are my personal key learnings:
I cannot stress this enough. I am a cancer survivor myself and I am fully aware how expensive cancer is. We have an excellent plan with AIG the supercare plan also covers dental and for an additional HKD300 per year it includes cancer and heart diseases. I unfortunately did not check the small fine print box to include it- I just assumed I did, so we didn’t have a choice but to pay out of pocket for Norma’s treatment. Please check your policies that they are up to date! The coverage is up to 100K which isn’t much in cancer world, but it should get you through the first line of the treatment plan, barring no complications and ICU ward fees. It also includes repatriation costs relating to cancer. Scans with contrasts done in a private clinic referred by the public hospital gets a subsidy, but would still cost you HKD8,000 and upwards.
ANNUAL HEALTH SCREENING
Helper choice where we hired our helper recommended Goodlinks which doesn’t seem to be fully comprehensive. The health check voucher HKD680 includes
• Blood pregnancy test (b-hcg test)
• Hepatitis B surface antigen
• Stool routine
• Chest x-ray
There are optional tests you can add-on:
– fasting glucose $85 (check diabetes)
– Lipid Check: $400 (measures cholesterols level)
– complete blood picture $140 (check for blood disorders)
– urine routine $90 (check for urinary tract disease)
– Hep A antibody IgG $490 (check for immunity to Hepatitis A)
– Anti-HCV $360 (check for immunity to hepatitis C)
– urea breath test (for helicobacter pylori) $780 (check for gastritis)
– Gonorrhoea, HSV, Chlamydia $1300 (additional STD tests)
I was also shocked that my helper at 51 and have 3 grown children had never done a PAP smear in her entire life. I took it for granted that she was an advocate for her own health. She was otherwise fit and healthy (running several times a week) with a very cheerful disposition. Early detection saves lives.
The Karen Leung Foundation offers FREE pap smear screenings with the 200 women project – Project SAFE is still taking in women, but the clinics are not open on the weekend so helpers would need to go during the weekday. Registration link here. There are still slots available for 2024. The foundation has ongoing programmes for domestic helpers to get their pap smears done, so sign up, and check in for their new projects.
From an archive post on Hong Kong Moms:
The Hong Kong Government offers a Screening Programme for women over 25. The booking system is automated and quite simple to use. You’d require the period dates (because it must be booked 10 days after a period) and then call the system on 3166 6631
– Have HKID card and mobile phone number
– Last period dates
-You will be prompted through the system to
Key in first 6 digits of HK ID card
Key in mobile number
The system will then guide you through locations (HK Island, NT, Kowloon East, Kowloon West or Outlying Islands).
You will then have the option to book a computer generated appointment date or choose your own preference.
That’s it! The fee is $100 and the system works quite efficiently and the wait is never more than an hour.
Breast Cancer Foundation offers FREE mammograms for helpers over 40 years old. Whatsapp: +852 6219 4106 to make a booking. Or call 3142 7333 if you have any questions. Your helper will need to provide her HKID and copy of her employment contract. The screening centre is at Fortress Hill.
Navigating Hong Kong’s Public Health Care
For the public healthcare system, download the Hospital Authority app (HA Go) to make appointments. These include the out-patient government clinics where vaccinations like Hep A+B, Tetanus, Rabies and the annual flu jab are either FREE or cost a small fee.
They revise the free vaccinations annually, so please book appointments via the HA app. It has been impossible to reach someone over the phone to verify details or get an appointment.
For Hospital admissions, anyone with a HKID pay the subsidised fees, and Norma completed her cancer treatment at Queen Mary Hospital over 4 months. We did the MRI and scans privately as the wait in the public system is long 3-4 months and we didn’t have the luxury of time as all her reports were stamped urgent.
If you have pets, it will be prudent to consider that your helper is up to date with her Tetanus/rabies jabs in case she gets scratched/bitten by accident (eg breaking up a dog fight or cat freaking out over clipping nails or the vacuum cleaner!).
My former helper Norma did her 3 Tetanus jabs for free at the outpatient government clinic. We did the flu jab at a private clinic and because she’s over 50, she had a subsidy and we paid HKD250.
Women’s Health Services at The Family Planning Association also offer a range of gynaecological tests.
If you found this article helpful, please do share with your friends as part of health advocacy for our helpers.
It’s taken time and effort to consolidate/factcheck all this information, and I am most grateful you made it to the end of the post. If it’s not too much to ask, I hope you would consider donating (no matter the amount) to the fundraiser I started for Norma, It will run until end February 2024. 100% proceeds goes to Norma’s living expenses and her on-going medical needs back in the Philippines.