When Cancer And Retirement Collide (A Reader’s Story)

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He’s a reader of this blog, and he was on track to retire at Age 57.

Then, Cancer hit.

This is his story. 

It’s a powerful lesson for all of us in the importance of planning for adversity, told by “one of us” who’s living it at this very moment.  When cancer and retirement collide.  A story that teaches the reality of one of life’s most severe curveballs, and how a reader of this blog is learning to deal with a new reality.

He was planning to retire at age 57. Then, cancer hit. This is his story of working through adversity. Click To Tweet

When Cancer And Retirement Collide

When cancer and retirement collide, your plans can change in an instant.  Following is the story of a reader and his wife who are experiencing that reality firsthand.  They’ve learned some valuable lessons in dealing with adversity, and I thank him for sharing them with you today.  With that, here’s his story…


This guest post will be a little different than what you normally might see.  You see, I reached out to Fritz to tell him I have been a reader of his blog and that I have found it very helpful.  I also noted to him that as I have been reading retirement blogs just about all of them do not cover an important topic.  Don’t get me wrong, they offer great financial insights, perspectives and planning tools. 

What they have not been addressing is the not so fun topic of working through adversity when you are close to retirement.  

It’s a topic I’ve (unfortunately) become well acquainted with, and I’m sharing my story today to reiterate the importance of being prepared to work through adversity as you plan for retirement.  Also, I’m learning some things along the way, and it’s my hope that others can benefit from the experience my wife and I are going through.  Here’s our story.


Ready For Retirement

If you want to gander on our back story that is specific to our financial preparation for retirement I was Millionaire #97 over at ESI Money.  That was way back in 2018 which seems like a lifetime ago.  And if you notice there is reference to a blog I was doing at the time, but due to my need to focus on family, I have since removed that blog site.

So we were, and continue to be, well prepared financially for retirement.  I had a goal to retire in 2023 at age 57 and we knew we could achieve that.  The single biggest concern was healthcare insurance.  If I retired early we would have to go to the open market to purchase it.  Even with no pre-existing conditions we were budgeting a hefty annual premium in our retirement forecasts.


Cancer Strikes

Then life hit us smack dab in the face.  The “C” word – cancer.  My wife was diagnosed Stage 4 in 2016 and since then she has been through five years of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

For the numbers types let me give you a quick summary of some financial data.  In 2019 there were $990,252 in gross charges for healthcare.    Insurance actually paid a lot less – $349,897 and we paid out $14,019 (Premiums and Copays/deductibles).  In 2020, there were $893,327 in gross charges for healthcare (not all charges are in yet), insurance paid $301,751 and we paid out $14,019.

With her diagnosis our focus changed. 

Fortunately money has not been an issue – even with a big decrease in my salary.  I had been planning to change careers to start preparing for retirement – a lower stress one would be nice.  Although it happened unexpectedly through a “right-sizing” event, I was able to find a great new career at a non-profit agency.  The plan was to change careers just not the way it ended up happening – but hindsight is 20/20 and it all worked out fine.  

Health insurance has also not an issue since I had coverage through my employer high deductible plan. I
have continued to max out my health spending account (HSA) and have not even submitted claims
against it yet (to allow it to keep growing tax free). In 2021 I plan to add via the Over 55 catch up
contribution to the HSA as well. And since my wife is also 55, she can also contribute to her own HSA,
which means in total for 2021 we will put $9,200 total into both of our plans (actually less since my
employer matches my HSA deferrals, which means they contribute $1,040, leaving $7,160 for us).

Even with a big drop in salary I have also continued to max out my 401k, including the Over 50 Catch Up.
I have been maxing out my 401k for many years. Once I hit 50, I started maxing out the Over 50 Catch
Up too.


Retirement On Hold

The biggest change has been the recognition that my retirement plans are now on hold. Without my
employer sponsored health insurance plan there most likely would be a big increase in premiums if we
tried to obtain health insurance in the open market. And even coverage we could find may impact her
physician relationship if they are not in network under the plan. I do admit that we have not even asked
a broker to work us up a quote – something I should do.

Our financial security has allowed us to focus on her care and treatment. Though this new reality
brought on new challenges related to her care and treatment. I want to share how we have been
working through adversity physically and emotionally. Please do not consider this advice, consider it our
perspective on what worked for us. Not everything we have done will work the same for others. Not
everyone may agree with what we are doing and that’s fine. We are sharing our approach to allow you
to decide for yourself what you might do if you face adversity.

How are we working through the adversity of Cancer in the midst of our retirement plans? Following are the keys. Click To Tweet

Faith, Family & Friends (“F-Cubed”) – Three pillars of support.

We have found that we cannot go through these tough times without support. We are grateful to have a
roof over us that is supported by three strong pillars. These pillars have provided the additional strength
for those times when we have started to show signs of weakness. These pillars are also just always
there, waiting in the background, ready to flex up at a moment’s notice when extra strength is needed.

Faith.

To me faith is expressed differently by different people. My wife is deeply religious, starting
every day with a rosary and prayer. I am religious and have faith that a higher power is watching over
us. Others may express faith in a different manner. Whatever works for you, find some faith to help
keep you going.

Family.

I have grown up in a family that has been spread out geographically for many years. We stay in
touch but not as often as we would like. My wife’s family is tight geographically, other than me taking
her to Texas, all her family is back in Ohio. During trying times our families have provided support to us.
One of my brothers flew in from overseas to support us when my wife was first diagnosed. A key
learning for me is that you may need to initiate conversation – even family struggles with what to say
and how to help.

Friends.

We have groups of friends. The “Close Knit’ group who is always there. The “Casual” group we
know through past and present activities we have been involved in. Both my wife and I have one or two
real close friends that we are able to talk more openly with. Interestingly we have both found our
closest confidants have had experience with cancer. I think that due to them going through a very
similar experience allows us to relate better to what we are going through.


Take Care of Yourself

Nutrition.

It is vitally important to make sure you find foods that you will like AND that will help you
nutritionally. You will need to experiment a bit on this one. With my wife’s cancer diagnosis it took time
to figure out things that worked. And every time something worked, things changed due to the
introduction of new medicines.

Exercise.

Staying active is not only good for you physically but also emotionally. Know your limits and
set new goals. My wife is an active walker/runner – doing 4 miles a day. After her multiple surgeries and
chemo she had to reset her expectations. We worked on accomplishing a walk around the inside of the
house, graduating to a walk halfway down the block, then a full block, etc…Increasing distance and not
worrying about time.

On top of the world! Flat Top Mtn., Anchorage AK, Sept 2020.

Don’t forget about the caregiver. It is important that these folks stay active and fit to be able to
provide support. I worked out deals with family and friends to visit so I could get out and rejuvenate the
body, mind and soul.


Focus on what you can control

This is a hard one for a person (a reference to me) who is OCD about being in control all the time. My wife
is the one who has had to put up with my control issues! Honestly, it makes no sense to worry about
what you cannot control. It is an emotional drain on you.

We both agreed early on that we would not dwell on the ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’ talk. There is no
sense replaying that old song. All it would do is mire us in a repetitive Ground Hog Day movie scene.

My biggest challenge was recognizing that I was not in control.

I had to accept that I was not in the driver’s seat, I was just a passenger along for the trip. What was more challenging is I had to stop being a backseat driver trying to call the shots. While I am not in the driver’s seat I am being an active advocate for my wife and her care.

Acknowledge that life goes on.

This was a tough one. What do you mean the world does not stop and revolve around us when
something bad happens? This is out there but maybe it does not connect until it hits you personally.
You see the headline news about a major tragedy. It is far away and while you see the impact maybe
the lack of a personal connection does not keep your interest too long.

When something happens to you directly or someone close to you, you might wonder how or why the
world around you continues on. Well, that is life. Life does continue on. Those around you have to
make a living to keep going on. They will go on vacation. They will post cool things on Facebook.
That does not mean those close to you don’t care because they do care. They are not continuing on as
usual to piss you off. They are continuing on to fulfill their own lives.

Once we accepted that other people had their own lives and we did not take it personally it made it
easier. When we looked at Facebook updates we tried to flip negatives to positives. Instead of saying
“wish we could do that” we started saying “we will do that when things get better.”


Get to know your diagnosis

We were thrust into my wife’s diagnosis on an emergency basis. We went to the emergency room, got
testing done, and within an hour we were told she has a large tumor with a 99.9% certainty that it was
cancerous. Hell, we went into the ER thinking maybe there was some simple intestinal tract issue.

Once we got through the emergency surgery we started studying up on what her diagnosis meant. I
listened intently to the doctors, wrote down everything and then googled it. At the time I worked at a
hospital, so I would call or text doctors or administrators to bounce things off them (something I know
the average person does not have access to).

ALWAYS ask questions. Every doctor visit, every procedure, every time.

There is one specific thing with my wife’s diagnosis we did NOT focus on – statistics like prognosis or
survival rates. It is not that we were burying our heads in the ostrich’s preverbal sand. We were quite
aware of the severity of the staging diagnosis. We just chose not to become Vegas odds makers with
this topic.

Why?

Number one, survival rates are just averages and we were not going to be part of the average. We were
going to be the exception to the rule and take this head-on.

Number two, survival rates are typically dated. By the time official studies are started, go through trials,
get written up, peer-reviewed, and published they are older than new treatments that might be
available.


Be your own advocate

You need to become your own advocate. Doctor offices and insurance companies are dealing with
hundreds and thousands of patients. You are one of those and sometimes you get lost in the shuffle of
every day workloads – not because people do not care but because they are dealing with more than
they can handle.

One of the biggest challenges we have had is getting approval for procedures and drugs for my wife’s
treatment. Insurance companies have all sorts of ‘approval’ requirements related to high cost
treatments. Luckily I have healthcare work experience and understand most of this but it was still a
frustrating process.

The simple lesson I learned – When discussing changes in care plans that involve new procedures/new
drugs – write everything down the doctor tells you. Then, call your insurance company and ask for a
patient advocate. Explain it to them and then specifically ask that person if any of these new treatment
plans require a “pre-determination” or a “pre-authorization” from insurance. And keep on this until you
get a confirmation letter in the mail that shows insurance has approved.

Lastly – If your insurance does not authorize a treatment, call your doctor and demand what is called a
“peer-to-peer” review of your case. This is where your doctor calls the insurance medical director to
discuss your treatment with the goal of getting it approved. In my wife’s case, we have had to do this
countless times.


Chunk It Up

We were overwhelmed right off the bat with the diagnosis. Going from a great suburban life and zero
health issues to the ER, to emergency surgery and diagnosis of cancer was a lot to absorb in less than 12
hours.

I have a favorite saying. “Chunk it up.” I could have easily used “Break it up” or “Cut it up” but where is
the fun catchy word in that? Anyway, what this means is take a big thing and chunk it up into smaller
pieces. That way it becomes a more manageable thing and you can also celebrate some small wins
along the way.

We knew that there would be a long road ahead. The staging diagnosis meant that this would be a
lifelong condition for my wife. We decided we would take things one day at a time. Take it in small
stages, celebrate the small accomplishments and if something new came up, repeat.

As long as today is better than yesterday we are moving in the right direction. How a reader is dealing with cancer as he plans for retirement. Click To Tweet

Our new mantra is “As long as today is better than yesterday we are moving in the right direction.” And
a key to this is that “better” is not defined – it could be as big as being declared NED (no evidence of
disease) or as small as being able to get up out of bed without puking due to the nausea.

In just under five years to date, we have had multiple “chunks”:

  1. Get through emergency surgery and recovery.
  2. Go through Round 1 of Chemo and recover.
  3. Be told that she has NED.
  4. Have surgery to reverse the first surgery.
  5. Be told the cancer is back and go through major surgery and recover.
  6. Go through Round 2 of Chemo and recover.
  7. Be told that she has NED a second time.
  8. Change Oncologists.
  9. Be told the cancer is back and start Round 3 of Chemo.
  10. Be told the cancer is back and start Round 4 of Chemo.
  11. Add in a short round of Radiation Therapy. 
  12. Wait for the regular check-in cycle.
  13. Be told cancer is back and has spread to another area.
  14. Start Round 5 of Chemo.

In addition to all the above, I left out going through a couple hurricanes during this time.

All of these things help us cope with our situation. I do not want to suggest all is good – it is not. We still
experience low points. When we do, we let it all out there. We shed the tears. However, we are
convinced that the recovery from those low points is positively impacted by the approaches above.


Conclusion

When cancer and retirement collide, your reality can change in a moment. What a story, and a powerful reminder to never take our health for granted. As I read through those “15 Chunks”, I can’t help but pause and think what it must be like going through the adversity they’re facing. My heart goes out to the author and his wife.  I’ve been shocked by how many of our friends are dealing with very serious health issues, and my wife and I have had numerous discussions on how grateful we are for every healthy day that have in our early retirement.

Just as this reader experienced, your life can change in an instant.  Be grateful for every day, you never know what the future holds.  If you’re one of the many who have a major curveball thrown your way, I hope this reader’s experience will be helpful as you work through adversity in your own life.

To the guest post author, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your wife.  Thank you for sharing your powerful story and the lessons you’ve learned through your trials.  Your words help others who are struggling with adversity.  You’re not alone, and sharing what you’re going through will be of tremendous help to others.  Praying for a full recovery, and a future retirement of your dreams.  Please keep me updated as things progress, I sincerely care about what you and your wife are going through and would like to keep in touch.

Your Turn:  Have you dealt with major adversity in your life?  What lessons have you learned?

69 comments

  1. Thoughts and prayers for you and your wife.

    Many excellent points…and a good reminder that plans can/will/must change.

    “No plan survives the first contact with the enemy”.

    1. Your words are very powerful. I appreciate your willingness to share your story w those of us you have never met knowing it could be helpful. Your resilience and compassion are remarkable. Thank you again for reminding me how incredibly precious – and fragile – life can be. I wish you and your wife many years of joyful togetherness!

      1. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I hope the reflection process helps you to see all that you have done right. Your diligence in advocating for your wife and obvious love for her shines through. My prayers to you and your wife for continued strength and healing. Take comfort in the back seat, God is driving.

  2. I had a cancer diagnosis in 2013 with resulting surgery. At that point I was 61 and successful in my career although not a millionaire. I decided to retire from my Federal job at that point and become a contractor. I did that for 6 years and then “really” retired in 2019 at 67. I might add I spent 20 years in the National Guard so health insurance is taken care of. Most of my career as an RN involved the military and/or veterans. Due to early diagnosis the cancer was resolved without chemo or radiation although some lifestyle adjustment was needed to some degree and I thank The Lord for that. Between The Lord, church, wife, very elderly parents and 8 grandchildren retirement is actually very busy. I do have 2 pensions, SS, and some savings so the early career sacrifices ultimately helped.

    1. Jerry, first, thank you for your service to our country. Good to hear about your early diagnosis and the outcome. The health insurance issue is the big one for us when it comes to our future plans.

  3. Wow. Powerful and eye-opening. Best hopes and prayers that things work out as best as possible.

  4. Love the article , well stated, and makes one think of long term importance of everything in life.
    My wife lost a friend yesterday who was in perfect health for 59yrs. She developed covid19 symptoms for 3 days, hospitalized, and 5 weeks later gone from this world. It definitely changes life’s perspectives on everything.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Shaun

    1. Shaun, wow. The impact of COVID has certainly changed many lives. The perspective on life has changed everything for us. We no longer take things for granted. I have also changed my behavior to not sweat the small things in life that used to bother me.

  5. This post resonates on sooo many levels and my thoughts and prayers go out to the author and his wife. May god bless and heal them both!

    The only thing I might add is a cross between Faith and being your own advocate. While not deeply involved with any religious organization I have several experiences that leave me assured our Faith is not in vain. When you feel prompted act on it. Be bold when you feel inspired. Failure to do so can have have serious repercussions. My failure to be bold and persistent, sadly proved to be life changing for me and life ending for a loved one. Doctors are busy people who can and do make mistakes. Help them help you!

    1. KC – Thank you. I agree with you 100% on the crossover of faith and advocacy. Faith is expressed individually and can look different to each person. Healthcare workers at all levels are busy – they care for hundreds of people, sometimes more. They are human and humans make mistakes. All the more reason to have a candid conversation with all healthcare providers to ensure you are on the same page and same understanding. I have a healthcare administrator background which benefits me more than the average person. I know the protocols that should be in place and I politely remind healthcare professionals if I do not observe it being done properly.

  6. Thoughts and prayers for the author and his wife. People are often afraid to ask friends/family/co-workers, etc. for help because they don’t want to be a bother. I am glad they reached out to their network. Yes, life goes on for everyone else while it seems you may be mired in misery or bureaucracy. People are willing to help, but are not always willing to make the first move. I would also encourage the cancer patient and caregiver to reach out to support groups as well. Talking with others in the same situation may help them manage the mental and emotional stress they are under.

    1. DomS – You are spot on with the feedback about people being afraid to ask for help. At first when we had people offering to help we declined – we did not want to think we could not handle it ourselves. All it took was a friend having a friendly but firm conversation with me to make me realize we had a huge network of friends willing to do anything to help! Thanks also for the feedback on support groups. Right now what has worked for us is talking more one on one with individuals.

  7. This is so moving Fritz and appreciate you posting this. My first wife and I walked this journey for 15 years while getting out of debt and planning for a happy and secure retirement. She never lost hope in that goal, and when it became apparent that she could not continue the journey with me, she encouraged me to find another companion. As we had been married 40 years, I felt this was never going to happen, but she insisted and about a year after she left us and I continued to insist I was not going to seek another, I was led to a wonderful person. We have now been happily married for nearly 4 years. My first wife is I believe happy on her own journey free of the shackles of cancer.
    The lesson in this for me and for your guest author is that we can never be in control of everything, and FIRE adherents need to understand that there always should be a plan to avoid ruin as large unexpected events are NOT rare. One of the most consequential of these is health care needs. This is one of the reasons that our health care system is going to have to improve and provide birth to death coverage for ALL in some way, shape or fashion, as many other countries provide already, with equal quality and lower costs. My fervent prayers for the author, his wife and family.

    1. This post reminded me of the story about Dr Henry Lodge co-author of the book “Younger Next Year” who passed away at age 58 from prostrate cancer. Dr Lodge did all the right things to live a long healthy life but even that is not an adequate defense against a black swan event.
      This article gave me a sense of urgency and reminded me to do the things that I want to do while I’m healthy enough to do them and not put off to tomorrow what I can do today because tomorrow might never come.
      The writer of this post and his wife are doing all the right things and all I can do is pray that things will turn out well for them.

      1. Mike – Amen to that. Why put off to tomorrow what you can do today! Life is too short. Recently we decided to take an unplanned trip (the photo of us on the mountain) because we had a chance to do it that might not present itself again. And we were abundantly cautious to take into account my wife’s condition and the COVID situation. We ended up having a blast on the trip and had no follow up health issues.

    2. Quentin – thanks for your story. Very powerful. Thank you for your prayers. The ‘control’ thing has been a challenge for me. I have learned to manage through it as best I can. On the healthcare system – that is an entire post in itself. Agree that we need to come together to figure it out.

  8. My wife and I went through a similar experience many years ago. We took our then 7 year old son to the night clinic because of repeated spontaneous nose bleeds. We were sent home and the next morning we went for an appointment with his regular pediatrician. Then it began – he was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. For the next six months, he was in the hospital. Five of those he spent in the pediatric ICU. We nearly lost him on several occasions.

    Every time I read a journey like this, the memories come back in full color and intensity. Thanks be to God and a wonderful medical community, today he is a healthy 33 year man with a beautiful wife.

    The line in the story that had me fist pumping the air was,

    “Instead of saying “wish we could do that” we started saying “we will do that when things get better.”

    That is a mantra we tried to cry every day. Each day presented new challenges, new issues, new staff members, new worries. Learning to live with that and roll with the punches was key to survival.

    Best of luck. We will pray a rosary for you both.

    1. Jeff – Wow. No child or parent should have to go through what you all did. Glad to hear your son is doing well! The line you mention was a powerful moment for us, or maybe me. I was getting so wrapped up in other people’s lives on social media and what I perceived we were missing out on. Only until I acknowledged that we needed to focus on the here and now did was I able to get over it.

  9. This is an incredibly powerful post – thank you and the guest author for sharing this with us. I think I, at least, could use more exposure to how people who have their careful plans upended like the author (and more than one commenter, I see), use grit, flexibility, faith and support to find a new path. At the same time, I am sure one of the reasons I haven’t read more experiences like this is because these types of life-changing events take so much time to deal with.

    1. Noblepower – I believe that a combination of things results in not seeing stories like this. Primarily people may be adverse to sharing their story. Secondarily, this is not the thing people really want to acknowledge may happen. Thanks for your comments.

  10. Unfortunately for 25 years I have read similar stories as an administrator for multiple cancer centers. It’s heart breaking but a reality that you seem to have stoically managed with an awe-inspiring attitude and gratitude. You are right to seek peer review for your wife. We have wonderful cancer treatments, but the process of care can be daunting and confusing. Oncologists are not all perfect and require peer review internally through what is called chart rounds and/or grand rounds or externally away from their group practice or hospital system. Better yet, a clinical trial if indicated and qualified would be better. As this pandemic rages on and my retirement enjoyment plans are on hold, I am occupied with helping close friends and family members with cancer. I recognize now that it is my calling to be their advocates. You are providing tremendous support to your wife as her advocate as she goes through her process of care. Keep up the faith. My thoughts and prayers are with you, your wife, and family.

    1. Eduardo, thank you. I applaud your efforts to take your knowledge and help others. While I have been primarily focused on my wife’s care and treatment I have been assisting others as well. Even for an insider like me (I have 28 years of healthcare admin experience), I have found the details daunting. I have actually been very satisfied on the care side of things. It is the insurance approval and resulting bureaucracy that has been my main issue!

    2. I would like to second many of the comments to this story. Your wife is very fortunate to have you in her corner.

      I too work in the Healthcare Industry. While we have a wonderful system, one must be thier own advocate. Mistakes are made by caregivers, and care is denied by payers every day. It’s a complicated system. Nobody is out to do you wrong but nobody cares as much as you do. Take control of your care and leverage the experts ( Doctors ) for help.

      Thank you for sharing. I’m going to hug my wife ( of 36 years ) a little longer today. My best to you and your wife as you navigate through this challenge.

  11. We are in a very similar situation now ourselves. This was a very helpful article to see how someone else is handling this difficult time. We are taking things one day at a time and working to enjoy each moment every day. The concept of “Chunk It Up” was very helpful. That is something we too have been doing somewhat unconsciously. Now we will make it part of our conscious practice.

    1. Mark, prayers for you and others going through similar situations. These situations are definitely marathons and not short sprints. We are in in for the long haul!

  12. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Thoughts and prayers for you and your wife. You have shown tremeoundou courage, patience, care and love to your wife after she was diagnosed cancer. Tiny bit details such as trying different foods to help her recover almost made me tear. You are truly a wonderful husband and human being.

  13. Dear Guest Author,

    Thank You so much for posting this and sharing your heartache and lessons. It took me back 20 years with my wife who had not as sudden but nearly as severe an issue (she’s doing great today and kicks my butt regularly). We were fortunate to have great insurance and an ability to ‘work virtual’ (even in the late 90s). We must have been blessed though as you have mentioned many steps (e.g. peer-to-peer review) that are unknown to me… I will somehow be archiving your post as a reminder to myself since as we age such things are probably likely to occur. You and your wife are in my prayers – God Bless.

    Steve

    PS – Fritz – Thanks so much for posting this in your blog. Steve

    1. Steve, Great to hear your wife is doing great. Thank you for the prayers. Specific to all the bureaucratic hurdles with insurance – Basic rule of thumb – Don’t assume anything. After consulting with medical professionals about treatment and procedures I now always call my insurance company to talk with them. I inform they what the treatment plan is (and you have to be specific) and then ask the open ended question “Does any of this require pre-approval by the insurance plan before we proceed?” Sometimes it does get technical and you may need additional information from your physician.

    2. “Fritz – Thanks so much for posting this in your blog.”

      Steve, you’re most welcome. It’s a powerful story that we can all benefit from. I greatly appreciate “Guest Author” and his willingness to share so transparently. I’ve been mesmerized by these comments all morning. Clearly, a message that we all needed to hear.

  14. This is so powerful. I imagine most if not all of the readers of this blog (if they are middle-aged) have had either a personal introduction to cancer/other major illness, or have been introduced via a family member(s). I found your perspectives of control what you can control, and that life does indeed go on to be spot-on for me personally. And also just how important F3 is! I hope and pray that you and your wife will find healing, peace, and strength in the coming months. God bless!

    1. Ronnie, thank you for your comments. Once I learned to cope better around what I could and could not control I then felt a big weight off my shoulders.

  15. Wow, that is a powerful and eye-opening story. Thank you so much for sharing. Stay strong for your wife and together you’ll come out stronger than ever!

    My wife and I are 57 and three months away from the starting line. Fortunately, we both enjoy good health. Over the past three years, two of our best friends have experienced major life changing medical conditions. That was one of the reasons we’ve decided to stop working now.

    Best of luck to you and your wife! Before you know it, this entire episode will be behind you and and you can live your retirement dreams!

    1. Jake, thank you. PS – I like your statement “We are three months away from the starting line.” Not the finish line, the starting line of a new phase of life!

      1. I can’t take credit for referring to the retirement date as the “starting line”. I think I got that from some guy named Fritz 🙂

        1. I’ve heard of that guy. In fact, I can’t seem to get away from him….

          For the record, I think he normally uses capitals when writing The Starting Line. The capitals matter, because it’s a symbolic location in Fritz’s mind (you wouldn’t type “new york”, right?).

          Yes, I’m also able to read Fritz’s mind…

  16. An excellent article on an uncomfortable but extremely important topic. Thank you to the author for sharing and to you Fritz for publishing it.

    I am an Australian who has lived in Europe and the UK and travelled extensively internationally as part of my career prior to retirement a year ago. As much as I love the USA and have many friends and former colleagues there, I have always struggled to understand how the USA has never learnt from the incredible health systems many other countries provide to their citizens. Any US health stories I read invariably have a big focus on insurance and treatment approvals. I don’t mean to be critical here, but just wonder why the citizens of the US don’t demand at least as good a system as other first world countries? Are Americans unaware of how health is delivered and paid for in other countries?

    1. Michael – I don’t think you are being critical. As a “recovering” healthcare administrator I have the perspective of the business side of healthcare and the individual side. Until we became a heavy user of healthcare I honestly did not fully appreciate how broken the US system around health insurance is (emphasis on insurance). Now I will say that the actual healthcare services in the United States are great. However, when it comes to the payment mechanisms – that is the biggest challenge area. I could write an entire post on this subject!

  17. I can only imagine the shock and surprise of getting that diagnosis when prior to that day she had no inkling anything was wrong.

    If I’ve learned anything from the past year and especially the past 4 months, your family and friends can make all the difference between making it through a crisis with your sanity intact, or not. Most people are eager to help and just need to be told what you need. My friends’ support helped me immensely.

    1. Lynne, I agree with you on the support part. Providing people the specifics of what is needed is what I have found helpful. Our friend circle has been tremendously helpful in getting us through this.

  18. Didn’t want to read and run. Powerful stuff and thought provoking. My very best wishes to you your wife and family. Thank you for sharing your story

  19. Michael – as someone from the UK I can only agree (have just spotted your comment), . When we get sick we have to worry about how to pay the mortgage, utilities, for groceries etc but not for medical care. Not the GP, the ambulance, the consultants, the overnight stays, the X-rays or tests, scans or hospital administered drugs. Hell we know our government doesn’t get a lot of things right but thank god for our NHS. I wish you all the very best and hope you get the insurance cover you need at a sensible price.

  20. Blessings to you and your family. Heart wrenching.

    Two comments:

    First, in my 40+ years in corporate benefits, 31 years in plan sponsor roles, it was never anyone such as yourself who would complain about the value of their health coverage. It was always the person who moaned about a $30 copay or a $500 deductible. Your health plan #’s are astounding and tell a very powerful story:
    2019 $990,252 charges Insurance Paid $349,897 You paid $14,019 (Premiums & Copays/deductibles)
    2020 $893,327 charges Insurance paid $301,751 You paid $14,019.

    Second, I have a story from my family – my dad and mom. Born in 1916, 1924, respectively. Married in 1946, 5 kids, also took care of my paternal grandfather. Dad was a firefighter, mom mostly a housewife who sold real estate on weekends. We grew up catholic and went to parochial schools – all but me through high school graduation. All went to college, three of us have multiple graduate degrees. In my father’s spare time, he fixed radios and TVs. We didn’t have a lot, but more than enough. Large extended family close by – over 20 first cousins, etc.

    Mom and Dad never talked about retirement with one exception. Dad served in WWII in Europe. Some of his high school friends served in the Pacific. They remarked how beautiful it was, despite Pearl Harbor.
    Mom and Dad talked about going there someday.

    Well everthing went pretty well, paid off mortgage in 1968, two of the five had graduated high school by then and were in college. I was a high school senior, in 1969, when my dad passed at age 53 – in part due to service-related complications.

    More than 25 years later, my older brother (I do everything he tells me to do) gives me a call and says he’s decided to take mom to Hawaii – muumuu’s, Don Ho, whatever. Asks me if I wanted to go. I said no. They went, had a good time. But for me, it was just too bittersweet.

    Moral – something I incorporated in pre-retirement seminars I used to moderate: Life is not a dress rehearsal for retirement – start doing some of those things you always wanted to do, today.

    1. BenefitJack – Your first point I think may be a complement. I am more than satisfied with the health insurance coverage I have. I worked in healthcare for 28 years and yes, I heard similar feedback about co-pays. I always reminded employees about the preventative care that cost nothing in the way of co-pays.

      Your moral – Agree 100%. Live for today because tomorrow may never come.

  21. May the Lord bless you and keep you…

    We know this story, too. 5 months into “FIRE.” We’re only about 15 months in (less than a year after surgery, chemo and radiation), but no news is good news. Such a rollercoaster of emotions.

    God’s good but we should be reminded to live for the present as well as save for the future.

  22. Thank you for sharing. I will save the section about being our own advocate, as that is very useful information. It’s heartwarming to hear the love you have for one another through the adversity. Best wishes to you both.

    1. Thank you for your frankness about such a challenging topic. I’ve been enjoying Fritz’s blog for a couple of years and was planning to stop full time work at the end of next year.

      I don’t understand your health care system enough – but you indicate you could not afford healthcare if you retired now. Let’s hope your wife lives for many more years – but requires ongoing healthcare and monitoring. How does this work in retirement, or does it mean you have to keep working to afford the healthcare?

      My spouse was diagnosed with cancer on Monday – so I’m just starting down this path. Fortunately, we do not have the same healthcare expense issues in Australia – although we do have some decisions in relation to public versus private hospitals.

      We have no idea what stage or what happens next until we see her surgeon Tuesday. Do you have any immediate advice in relation to anything you might have done differently early on? I appreciate your advice about being your own advocate.

      Also, would you retire early if healthcare expenses were not an issue? Or is work a useful distraction when your retirement plans have been thrown into a spin?

      1. Mark, my prayers are with your spouse and you during this time.

        Sometimes as an American I do not understand our healthcare system fully – and this is after I worked in it for 28 years. The issue in the United States is that before age 65 and what we call Medicare, an individual usually obtains health insurance through their employer, through publicly subsidized programs (Medicaid) or they pay on their own.

        But let me focus on your other question. What I would have done differently? I would have taken a lot more detailed notes of visits. Also, I would have asked all the healthcare professionals to explained things more easily. I eventually turned this into a joke by saying “Hey Doc, remember I am an accountant, dumb it down for me.” That got a little chuckle and they would pause and explain things in a simple manner. I even told them that as a kid I liked books with pictures – I am a visual guy – so, show me what you are talking about. As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. You will most likely have questions after your visit. Write those down when they pop into your head and remember to ask them. Lastly, become best friends with the office staff that supports the physician – they will usually be more accessible and available (at least in the USA).

        Best wishes

  23. Thank you. This is powerful. Your words resonate with my mom’s death from stage 4 lung cancer and my bout with a pulmonary embolism. Excellent points about statistical averages and treatments. Writing down doctor’s information and learning about your situation is huge. Particularly powerful to me is the need to support patient and caregiver as a unit. If either falls there is big trouble, and when both stand you’ve got the best defense. People may focus on the patient, and caregivers may sideline themselves thinking the attention needs to be on the patient.

    Having a spiritual foundation and an approach to life and death is deeply helpful. I am reminded of a book that prepared me, a podcast on how friends can help, and Romans 8:28.

    Praying for you both today. You have faced and dealt with such tremendous challenges! It is very thoughtful of you to share with us, help us, and move us to consider these needful things. Words fail to express such a situation, but we will try.

    George

    Resources:
    Book Sunsets: Reflections on Life’s Final Journey
    Podcast – Start at minute 9

    Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

    1. George, thanks for your comments. My feedback about the caregiver comes from my healthcare background. We had a program specifically aimed at caregivers. And it was not just family of patients. It was also targeted to the staff at the hospital – they go through a lot and see a lot and need the support.

  24. Thank you to the guest author. Thank you to Fritz for always posting topics that resonate. Thanks to this community for perspectives.

    Grateful today after reading that for health, family and wealth. Much to be humble about.

    Great reminder to schedule that physical I’ve been putting off, today.

  25. Thanks for your heartfelt article. At 59 and was planning to retire in 2024. I had my wakeup this year with a heart procedure needing 2 stints. Being very active and healthy my whole life, having the thought of handing over my life savings to cardiologists and hospitals to stay alive, hopefully, I find hard to deal with. Thanks for your insight.

  26. Excellent guest post article! It would be incredibly helpful to the followers of Fred’s log, if the guest blogger can post another guest post “Navigating the Healthcare System for Dummies”.

    Financial – in the boundary of any country, there is a common financial requirement everyone must strive to meet the basic needs. Financial targets must be set and re-calibrated every 10 years to meet the external changes and internal physical/mental developments.

    Relationship – birth and death are met on the same circle. At births most of us are received with grand
    celebrations. At deaths, most of us are exited in silence. The fact that you and your wife have invested in
    the RELATIONSHIP moat over the years, facing CANCER will have efficacy.

    Health – our body and mind is not built for chronic stress. Ninety percents of the world population is barely able to cope with chronic stress just to meet the basic needs. FIRE will exponentially multiply the chronic stress if the plan and execution are not properly designed specifically for the individual/family.

    Humanity – we are not here to make money and accumulate. We are here to reproduce and in the process of supporting our reproductions, hopefully, our ingenuity served more than just our individual selves. You must enjoy your personal ingenuity.

    1. The Engineer – I can definitely do a post about Navigating Healthcare. I don’t want to wear out my welcome with Fritz and his website but I will follow up with him.

      1. GA, given the strong response to your post, you’re welcome anytime! You know the drill…work on it at your leisure, I’ll weave in a second post on the “Navigation” topic in due course. Always give the readers what they want, right?! Thanks again for your strong involvement in the comments, it’s been a great discussion to observe.

  27. Thank you for your story and prayers for your wife. It reminded me of events in my own life. At 58, I was not feeling well after my mother died and chalked it up to stress and travel. After about a week, I wasn’t getting any better and went to the emergency room, thinking I was having a heart attack (I had the symptoms). After testing, it was determined I had leukemia (AML) and was immediately flown to Seattle from my home in Alaska (thanks for the picture of you on Flat Top!) I spent the next four months in a Seattle hospital and rehab facility, then another month in the hospital back home. Thankfully, my sister was my advocate. With the heavy chemo, I was totally unable to do that on my own. Some of my statistics were pretty disheartening as well, but the experience taught me that all the things I used to stress and worry about were pretty inconsequential – don’t sweat the small stuff. And now I don’t. I have been semi-retired since then, since working full-time is just too much for me. But my AML has stayed in remission for three years now and my health has improved. However last August I was diagnosed with breast cancer, but thankfully that was caught early and has been treated successfully. So I can very well relate to your story, and I thank you for sharing it.

    1. Linda, wow. Two significant healthcare events! Praying for you. Our trip to Alaska was spur of the moment and Flattop Mountain, though not high, was quite an undertaking for a bunch of flatlanders like us!

  28. Wow, thank you for sharing your story. It resonates with the pre-retirement anxiety I feel (not quite eligible for Medicare for a few years at least). I am blown away by your fortitude and positive attitude. My thoughts & prayers for you & your wife.

    I also wonder if you were on the ACA (as opposed to an employer health plan), would the financial burden have been worse? I look forward to reading your “navigating the health insurance” write up.

    My best to you/your wife.

    1. rgs -thank you for the prayers. Right now I have good insurance through my employer. I am on a high deductible plan with an HSA (health savings account) attached.

      I have work experience with ACA (affordable care act) plans and typically they have narrow networks (at least in the region I live).

      The big decision for us will be if I want to retire what are our options for health insurance before 65 and Medicare. Fritz posted a while back that this was a big topic and he was still sorting out options. From what I can tell I can buy private insurance but with a pre-existing condition the premiums will most likely be very high. I can go the ACA route and try to find a plan that my wife’s doctors accept. There is another option called Medi-share but that is not insurance and those plans typically will not accept those with pre-existing conditions.

      I do plan to talk to someone who is an insurance broker to really dig into this topic.

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