I have decided to talk a little bit about an important anniversary that falls on this date. I struggled with the idea of whether this fit into the blog’s theme. This is something very important to my life and wanted to write about it. I have not really focused on the financial aspects of this event but decided to do that here for multiple reasons. First it would allow this discussion to fit into the theme of this blog. Also, it would allow me to dive into how the financial impact of these life events played into my later decisions to take my personal finances much more seriously.
Seven years ago, I received a phone call from my wife. She explained that she saw something strange but didn’t think much of it. I encouraged her to contact her doctor to be on the safe side. She did and went in to see her doctor. Her doctor ran some test and found some alarming anomalies. She referred us to a surgeon to perform some exploratory surgery. That surgery resulted in something nobody ever wants to hear…. There were cancerous cells present. This led to a second surgery, this one to remove all the effected cells. That second surgery was seven years ago today. That marks the time when my wife was officially cancer-free. There was one additional surgery one year later as they found some strange results on a test and performed surgery to remove that. It turned out that it was not a re-occurrence but merely some scar tissue. Following the second surgery, there were many months of radiation treatments and therapy sessions and fear! What there was not was a single moment of feeling sorry for herself. My wife is an amazing woman and I cannot imagine having to have gone through this. She is a fighter and she handled herself in a way that not only took the fight to the cancer but set such an incredible example for my children on how you handle adversity.
This is a story that I tell every year on this anniversary. I always focus on her strength and resilience, as I have done above. However, since this is a personal finance blog, perhaps it makes sense to also discuss the impact this had on our finances.
Shortly before this diagnosis, I lost my job. At that time, I decided that I would try consulting. I was the only income earner in the family at that time and therefore our health insurance was tied to my employer. Upon losing my job, I investigated COBRA coverage. This was a smaller company with some large claims in it’s past so insurance coverage was not very affordable. COBRA coverage was available but not at a price that I could afford so we purchased insurance on our own. We had a conversation about this and decided to get a high-deductible, catastrophic plan. We justified this decision by saying that “we are young and have always been mostly healthy.” I had savings at that time as well as stock market investments. I felt that we would be able to handle anything that came our way. This theory was put to the test almost immediately. When deciding on the path forward, we never gave money a thought, we pursued what we felt were the best options as recommended by our doctors.
Right around the time of the second surgery that I celebrate above, the bills started to roll in. Our insurance coverage was excellent and performed as we expected. This is not an entry to tell a horror story about big insurance. However, with a high deductible plan, a large portion of these bills was our responsibility. We dipped into our savings and paid these off. We got to the point where we paid our maximum out-of-pocket for that first year.
We felt like the worst of the financial impact was behind us and we survived it without depleting our savings. This optimism was short lived and very incorrect. Following that surgery, there were months of radiations treatments and appointments with many specialists, all who contributed to the excellent care that my wife received. Those bills came rolling in and we quickly hit out maximum out-of-pocket for the second year in a row. We did, however, finish up radiation treatments that year so we felt that we had weathered the storm, even though we had run through just about all of our savings and investments.
Then, as I mentioned above briefly, there was a test in that next year that revealed some tissue that the doctors were not happy with and they wanted to perform a third surgery. This surgery went smoothly and returned the greatest news we had ever heard in that it was not a re-occurrence of the cancer but scar tissue. This successful surgery and excellent news were followed by even more bills and visits to specialists. For the third year in a row, we hit the maximum out-of-pocket spend on our insurance program. Unfortunately, we had run through all our savings but by that time, my consulting work had picked up and was steadier and we were able to pay our obligations without having to take any extreme measures.
I have not previously looked at this time in our lives through the lens of our finances and doing so today has shown me one thing…. The financial portion of this was significant. But not significant enough for me to view it, even with the passage of time, as a hardship. I never considered the costs or impacts on our finances as we considered treatment options and even looking back and seeing that this caused us to run through all of our savings and most of our investments, I have absolutely no regrets as I can write this and say that today marks the seven year anniversary of that all-important surgery that allowed my wife to be cancer-free.