When my doctor told me they had found cancerous cells in my thyroid (I didn’t know what a thyroid was either), it didn’t seem like that big of a deal. He told me it was the “good” cancer and fairly easy to treat. A few weeks later, they took out my thyroid. A few weeks after that, I took a magic radioactive pill to get rid of any remaining traces of cancer.
That is, until they did a follow-up scan and found that cancer cells were also in my lower neck and upper chest. So there’s that.
Only being 33, however, they tell me the prognosis is still very good.
Regardless, hearing the C-word and your name in the same sentence makes you tilt your head like dogs do when they are confused.
This type of news obviously prompts all sorts of thoughts and introspection. It puts a whole new perspective on family, life, and the most important—money.
Okay, so money is obviously not the most important overall, but I like to give it a special status on this blog.
How much would you pay for a pill that could save your life?
That’s right. This is not a sci-fi movie. ONE pill. A radioactive pill, that is.
The nurse called me to schedule the appointment and describe the procedure. When she mentioned the pill, I interrupted her and asked if it cost like $10,000. She said “no, I think it’s closer to 3 or 4 thousand.”
Oh OKAY. Great. Just your average cost of a weekend prescription run at Walgreens. I was particularly bitter at this time about the fact that my deductible had reset one month earlier than most plans.
3 to 4 thousand dollars! I am not yet to the point in my life where that is nothing to sneeze at. I mean, I could have used that to save for important things…like retirement!
That’s when the whole irony of the situation jolted me.
Without this pill, there’s a chance you might not even be around for retirement, you dummy! Talk about an epiphany.
Why do we save money if not to survive and live life?
Shouldn’t I be willing to spend at least that amount if it means prolonging the most critical years with my family? We are talking about a targeted cancer treatment that does not exist for most types of cancer. I may end up having to take more than one, but for many people with thyroid cancer, one is all it takes.
Don’t live for retirement
Humans these days are so accustomed to short-term gratification. We want it all now. Most financial experts do not advocate this mindset because acquiring wealth typically does not work like that.
But on the other hand, there is danger in having too narrow of a mindset. The idea of retirement is so ingrained into our notion of life stages, we often are blinded to alternative ways to enjoy life. Many people wait too long to enjoy the benefits they’ve been working so hard to accrue.
I recently spent several days in my office with a visitor from my company’s sister company. He’s a 64-year-old widower who was born and raised in Mexico and is planning to retire in a few months.
Based on his own estimation (and on life expectancy averages for Mexican males), he probably has 8 years of life left. When I was a teenager, 8 years seemed like an eternity. Now as an adult, I feel like I blinked, and my son is 9 already. He’s halfway out of the house!
8 years is peanuts! This guy is basically already dead! Okay that may be taking it too far (but not as far as I take it when I get dramatic and tell my wife “we are basically already dead!”).
He told me that despite all of his accomplishments, the one thing he has never been able to achieve is finding happiness. He has spent the last 30 years working weekends and holidays, not because he had to–just because he wanted to. I’m guessing he and his wife had some kind of retirement plans, but now with her gone, those will obviously look different now.
And I didn’t even mention the (good?) news that he only has $60K to go on his mortgage.
I’m not judging his situation as good or bad. It just shows how plans can change, and it makes me wonder what exactly we are all working toward.
Getting cancer is sort of like getting a new car. Once you get it, you start noticing it all over the place. All the sudden I’m like holy crap! Everyone is dying of cancer!
I find myself saying “so much for that guy’s 401k…” all the time now. I don’t mean to be insensitive. It’s a tragedy to lose human life. But isn’t it also a tragedy that life was spent saving for something that never even got to be enjoyed?
My conclusion is simply to say FORGET THIS.
Forget this notion that life will end without the stability of a 8 to 5 job…every day…for the next 40 years.
Forget the idea that I need a house, 2 cars, a big fenced backyard with a trampoline (although the tramp has been amazing for keeping the kids outside).
It’s no different than I’ve been saying for the past few years. The only difference now is that cancer has solidified my perspective into adamantium.
Alternatives need to be planned wisely, but it is so possible to live outside the norm. It just requires a slight shift in mindset. Luckily I’m married to a woman who is adventurous enough to skip town with me. I’ve talked about how it’s a dream of ours to go and immerse ourselves in a different culture for a while.
We both feel like now is the time to explore something like this with the family. Our kids are young enough that we are not causing upheaval in their lives and old enough to appreciate the experience. My treatment schedule throws a complication in the timing of when exactly we can take off, but we are still targeting this year.
I’m finally getting to that age where my friends are finding themselves in higher-responsibility roles in their jobs, which is awesome. It makes me wish I made more friends along the way! Anyway, in just the last two weeks, I was approached separately by 2 different friends whose companies were looking for new finance directors, asking me if I was interested.
That makes me see $$$ signs and think about what kind of raise I could get. But more importantly, it makes me realize this: Jobs will ALWAYS be there. Leaving my job and the country for a year is not be a big deal. (I know what you’re thinking, but I’m leaving Trump out of this.) When I came back after 2 years as a missionary in Mexico, it was almost as if I had never left. You just pick up where you leave off.
A $100,000 feeling
Since I’m not making millions online* and will likely have to leave a steady paycheck, there will be a monetary opportunity cost. But let’s say that opportunity cost is $100K. What’s better? Having $100K extra in the bank or doing something that gives me a $100K feeling?
Leave it to something like cancer to absolutely blow your financial budget out of the water. It is forcing me to be more flexible and to think about why money is even important.You might not get cancer, but you will encounter unexpected twists and turns of some degree throughout the rest of your life.
Continue to save for retirement, but do it with an open mind. Make contingency plans.
What would you do in the next 10 years if you knew that was all you had left?
The bottom line is: appreciate where you are, live to minimize regrets, and budget for change…or cancer.
*Sidenote 1: Though I’m not making millions YET, my virtual cpa business is growing, and I’m enjoying it. I still have some space if you want to get on my calendar for tax help this year.
Sidenote 2: I’ve been slacking, and I just went through and approved at least 10 new budget profiles. Take a look to see if you can help anyone out on their financial situations, especially Sarah who is wondering how she can make a dent (RN in Alaska, 46, 2 kids, net worth -114,000).