Aug 7, 2013

Principle 15: Protect Your Health: Lessons Learned From a Cancer Diagnosis

A few years ago I was diagnosed with cancer, and when I tell you it was every bit as scary as you think it would be, you have to believe me.

The Doctor's name that told me I had cancer was Dr. Feir (pronounced FEAR).

The Doctor's name that performed the initial surgery to remove some metastasized nodules was Dr. Skinner.

Cool.  Dr. Feir and Dr. Skinner.  This outta be good.

The short version of my story goes a little like this:

 After a surf trip to Costa Rica in college, I began a summer internship at a commercial real estate company in Orange County.  Not more than a week into this new job I began noticing some lower back pain.  Luckily, the Physician I saw about this didn't want to take any risks so he ordered a CT scan.  The result came in the following day, and Dr. Feir called me into his office where he shared the most traumatic news I've ever hear.

I can't explain the horror I felt at that moment.  I initially panicked and was brought to my knees in the hospital room.  Quickly I realized I had to tell my Mother about this.  I should have waited and broke the news to her in a more gentle way, but I called her from the clinic and she freaked.

She demanded to speak with the Doctor, and through her tears I overheard her screaming, "don't you scare my boy!  Don't you mess this one up, are you sure?!?"

I wish he wasn't, but he was.

My next stop was to the oncologist to see how far along I was.  The type of diagnosis I had called for a surgery (or 2) and possibly a chemo regimen.  The oncologist didn't hold back when he shared that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and lungs.  This meant chemo.

Surprisingly, chemo wasn't so bad.  I had a one week on, 2 weeks off schedule where I'd spend a week in the hospital and rest for two weeks at home.  I had a few rough patches during the 12 weeks of treatment, but nothing can compare to the frustration of not having health insurance.

Yep.  You read that right.

LUCKILY, this all came about 3 weeks before my 21st birthday which was the cutoff age to receive public health benefits if you don't have coverage.  Through no one's fault but my own, I only had catastrophic health care benefits to the tune of 80% up to $10,000.  I blew through that in the first week.

Thankfully the state of California has some fantastic social workers that were able to handle my case and I ended up with ZERO medical bills.  This was a tremendous feat considering the total cost of my healthcare related to the diagnosis was over $250,000.

If You Don't Have Your Health, You Don't Have Anything

The good news is I have been cancer free for over 5 years.  I continue monitoring this closely through blood test and bi-annual CT scans, but everything looks to be taken care of.  I truly believe this whole experience, beginning to end was an incredibly gift, and I was able to get through it by holding onto my faith in my lord Jesus Christ and by the selflessness of family and countless friends.

I urge you to take a step back and reflect on the story you just read.  It CAN happen to anyone.  Take the time to love your family and do things you've put off for too long.  Tomorrow is never guaranteed.

Protect Your Health at All Costs

Listen, I'm not perfect.  I've implemented some major changes to my diet and lifestyle since all this took place, but every once in a while I'll partake in one of life's simple pleasures. . . like Famous Amos cookies and the glass of milk I'm enjoying now!

Do some research on your family's medical history and get a physical

Talk to your doctor about any elevated risks you may have of getting sick, and if there are any preventative measures they'd recommend.

Staying healthy should be a cornerstone of your path to building wealth, as we are never guaranteed tomorrow.  I can tell you from experience that IRAs and investment plans DON'T EXIST when you are fighting for your life.

You and your family will suffer GREATLY in the event of an illness, and steps need to be taken to protect your assets and income.

A few things that come to mind are:

1. MAKE SURE you have health insurance.  Don't be a bonehead like I was.
2. Save 6-12 months of expenses in a risk free, liquid emergency fund.  Yes, being diagnosed with cancer counts as an emergency and you will need those funds so make sure they're there.
3. Be proactive with protecting your health.  Eat a clean diet.  Exercise.  Get checkups often.

Life is Short, Don't Be a Miser

I know there are a lot of financial gurus that recommend you eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for 15 years so you can retire by 40.

It seems that article titles like "save 75% of your income with these freakish tips" are constantly spammed across my twitter feed, and most of the time they feature a story about someone living in a tent eating canned beans all day.  Don't do that.  Eat a balanced diet, strive to save 25% of your income and forget the rest.

Take the time to play in the yard with your kids, or take your wife on a spontaneous romantic weekend.  Create some memories.  If you have a solid financial plan in place you should feel comfortable enjoying the sweet times, because you never know what tomorrow will bring.

One of the most powerful memories I have came during my last round of chemo treatment.  I remember looking outside my hospital window at a sunny courtyard and an elderly couple was walking hand in hand along a row of flowers.  I had a desire to go out and feel the warmth of the sun but unfortunately the rolling IV stand I was attached to had an old battery that couldn't hold a charge.  This meant I was forced to remain "plugged in" to the outlet in my room or have the nurse come in and remove the port from my arm, which wasn't a desirable option due to the pain of redoing the whole thing... I just wasn't into it.  I walked back over to the window and for the first time in my life, I finally realized what I was most thankful for.

Sunshine. Peace. Love. God.

Protect your health.  Eat your veggies.



  1. I've had an existential health experience too, so I get it. The silver lining is the new perspective one gets, which your post reflects. Not sure there's any other way to get that perspective than the sort of experience people like you and I have gone through.

  2. Wow, Chuck. What a harrowing experience. Kudos to you for battling through and then changing your life for the better.

  3. Thank you for being strong and sharing this story with us. It's not always easy to share something when you might feel you are broken. I'm sure you will continue to conquer this evil. Keep the faith.

  4. Wow! Thanks for such an heartwarming story, I'm glad to hear that you've been cancer free for 5 years. That's great!

  5. Chuck, Glad to know you were able to manage all the bills with help of social workers and luckily your age didn't 21 just by 3 weeks. Having insurance is a must to save and protect you and your family, very good advice. Not sure why many people ignore it. I fully agree one must have a proper diet and not to be miser to save in order to retire early. What's the use of money if your health doesn't allows you to enjoy. Health is after all Wealth

  6. My 45 year old cousin recently got diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer and it was a huge wakeup call. You're right that if you don't have your health you really don't have anything.

  7. So glad you were not only cured but also covered! that was a close call. I have coverage for big things like that but not for small illnesses which I can cover with savings.

  8. That is so terrifying! I'm glad you are okay. This is such a great reminder to eat better and stay grateful for my health.

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