Thursday, July 30, 1998
Opening the Window
Sometimes, you don't realize what you have until you don't have it any more. At the age of 34, I was diagnosed with cancer -- T-cell lymphoma, to be exact. My health was not really something I thought about; it was just sort of there. Kind of like money -- if you have enough of it, you can afford to ignore it. Well, I couldn't ignore it any more. After the initial shock, I felt that if I was going to beat this thing, I needed to learn everything I could about the disease and the treatment. I got all the literature about my cancer and treatment that I could and read it all. Since I knew what to expect, I felt like I could be proactive. I decided to cut my waist length hair before the chemotherapy made it fall out. I would be the one in control, not the cancer.
I was not in control of the cost of having cancer, however. One of the life-changing aspects of this disease was watching our savings account disappear with alarming rapidity down the Black Hole of medical bills. We had always kept an "emergency fund," but it was really for unexpected expenses of a few thousand dollars. This was something else altogether -- a long-term drain on our finances month after month. We had good insurance, but 10% co-pay of a lot of money is still a lot of money. My first hospital stay (10%) was $900.00. The bills kept growing from there; our debt was starting to look like cancer, too.
I felt that if I was going to get control of this ever-burgeoning debt, I needed to learn everything I could about managing our money. Since I couldn't do much except lie in bed or on the couch, I started reading personal finance magazines and books. I discovered the National Association of Investing Clubs through one of Peter Lynch's books and joined. I made a budget (for the first time), designed a payment plan for our debts, and then, of course, found The Motley Fool. As my body weakened under the onslaught of the chemotherapy, my mind expanded into this new and fascinating world of money management.
As it turned out, we made our long slow recovery together, me and my finances. Today, seven years later, both of us are healthy. I don't take my health or my finances for granted anymore, either. I visit lymphoma patients at M.D.Anderson every Friday, and tell them that I used to have lymphoma too, but that it was seven years ago. Their faces show a dawning sense of hope and the realization that, hey, maybe I can get through this too. And those medical bills? Finally paid them off and put those cancer debt-paying funds to work in the stock market. Now that's rapid growth I can live with!