What it's like to be a young adult with cancer?

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As a young adult, falling seriously ill is probably the last thing on your mind. You’re growing your career, planning to start a family and have your whole life ahead of you. Then BAM, everything goes to hell in a handbasket when you’re diagnosed with cancer. The truth is cancer can strike at any age and has been rising amongst millennials. A commentary published in TODAY noted that cancer rates increased faster for 25- to 29-year-olds than any other age group – by 22% between 1990 and 20191.

One of my friends, James Rainier, aged 32, was diagnosed with Stage 1 testicular cancer in 2022. I spoke with him about the roller-coaster of emotions he went through from the initial diagnosis to the surgery, and the road to remission.

Here are some key takeaways from our discussion:

Don’t ignore the signs

James Rainier - my testical grew to the size of a kiwi testicular cancer

In Rainier’s case, the huge red flag that something was wrong was when his testicle doubled in size! (Watch the full video to find out how your pets might also be a secret cancer detector 🐶) But the truth is that cancer symptoms can be a lot more nuanced, especially in the early stages. Apart from monitoring for any lumps, sores, or moles on your body, HealthHub also lists more general conditions like a persistent cough, unexplained weight loss and fatigue as potential warning signs of cancer2.

The surest way to tell however is to see a doctor for regular health check-ups. I used to think these screenings would cost upwards of S$100 but with the Screen for Life programme, Singaporeans can get tested from just S$5. Going for these check-ups is great for your health in general as doctors can alert you to other conditions to watch out for. For instance, I learnt I had high cholesterol during my last check and have been trying to exercise ever since to keep my bad LDL cholesterol level down.

As with all health conditions, the sooner you identify the problem, the sooner you can address it to be healthy again.

Parkway Cancer Centre - Chemotheray Drip bag

The real cost of cancer treatment

Rainer shared that following his diagnosis, he underwent treatment to stop the cancer spread. From surgery to remove the affected organ to a bout of chemotherapy after that, it was quite the ordeal for a young adult. Thankfully Singlife Shield covered most of the cost for his hospitalisation and treatment so he could focus on recovery.

Cancer treatment isn’t cheap. Using data compiled by our health partner Homage, a biopsy, surgery and a single cycle of chemotherapy will cost around S$5,354, and the amount triples if you opt for treatment at a private hospital3.

Depending on the severity of the condition, doctors might also prescribe radiation therapy (S$25,000 to S$30,000) or immunotherapy (S$9,000 per dose). Recent changes to the cancer drug list also mean that only approved drugs can be claimed from your MediSave4.

Cancer is a complex disease and the cost of treatment stacks up to reflect that. Nevertheless, I believe that we all want the best care for ourselves and loved ones. Learning from Rainier’s experience, I now know that it’s important to have an active critical illness plan that can provide a lump-sum payout upon your diagnosis to cover any initial medical expenses.

You can even go a step further and enhance your protection against cancer with Singlife’s Cancer Cover Plus. The best part about this plan is that it allows you to claim for treatments not included in the standard drug list and seek treatment overseas!

You are not alone

Don't be a dodo: James Rainier testicular cancer

The resounding message in my conversations with Rainier is one of hope, that things will get better. Having survived this ordeal, he is now a passionate insurance advocate. One of his top priorities is making sure his parents and all his friends are adequately covered for all of life’s curveballs.

As young adults chasing independence, we tend to take on a lot by ourselves – as Rainier did in trying to hide his diagnosis from his family. The truth is, we don’t have to bear everything by ourselves. Opening up to our loved ones brings relief and in his case, delicious home cooked food made lovingly by his family.

Life is full of surprises. Talking with Rainier made me realise the importance of getting protected from the start (looking at you first-jobbers) so you have the freedom to chase your dreams and focus on what’s really important in life. So don’t be a dodo, put down your phone and start living your best life with your loved ones.

Be sure to check out full episodes of our Don’t be a Dodo podcast on YouTube so you won’t be a clueless birdie like me.


1. Source: Today Online, Commentary: Are rising cancer rates among millennials a warning for youth not to take good health for granted?, accessed 5 September 2023.

2. Source: HealthHub, Diseases and conditions: Cancer, accessed 5 September 2023.

3. Source: Homage, Cancer treatment Singapore, accessed 8 September 2023.

4. Source: Ministry of Health, Cancer Drug List, accessed 8 September 2023.

This article is for educational purposes and is not intended to serve as legal, tax, investment or accounting advice and nothing contained here shall constitute a distribution, an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy. Accordingly, no warranty whatsoever is given, and no liability whatsoever will be accepted by Singapore Life Ltd for any loss arising whether directly or indirectly as a result from you acting based on this information.

POSTED IN Life after Cancer, Psychological Health