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  • Emily Macpherson

Five Lessons I Have Learnt From Cancer - So Far!

I am a great believer in seeing the positive in any situation – but I have to admit that, over the last couple of months, my ability to ‘keep positive’ has been challenged at times! That said, I think I am working my way through the myriad of conflicting emotions that is inevitable with any cancer diagnosis.

Breast Cancer Awareness

I would like to say that I diligently perform the recommended breast checks on a regular basis, but the reality is that the discovery of the small lump in my right breast was completely by chance. I found it at the start of June and, since then, the days seem to have passed in a jumble of appointments, scans, biopsies and procedures.

My official diagnosis is ‘Grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma’. I had surgery in July, during which four of my lymph nodes were removed and tested to see if the cancer had spread. Thank goodness, that all of the lymph nodes were clear. This is amazingly positive news and I am so grateful to be one of the lucky ones. I am acutely aware that not everyone is as lucky as me.

Despite having caught it early, I still face further surgery and ongoing treatment. The exact extent of the treatment is still unknown, but it will be a fairly long road to recovery. The reality is that, even as one of the lucky ones, day to day life with be significantly disrupted for a period of time, and this will have a significant impact on my lifestyle, my business and my personal finances.

I am not writing this to try and make you feel sorry for me. I am writing about my experience because I hope it will prompt you to consider how a serious illness might affect you and your family, and what steps you can take to ensure that you are protected to some degree.

Here are the first five lessons I have learnt from my experience – I am sure there will be many more to come!

Lesson 1 – Serious illness can affect anyone at anytime

Serious illness isn’t just something that happens when you get ‘old’. I know I’m not exactly a spring chicken, but at the age of 38 I don’t consider myself old just yet.

I don’t smoke or drink to excess, I am careful about what I eat and I exercise every day. I ran the London Marathon in April, so to be diagnosed with cancer in June was a pretty big shock.

Lesson 2 – So much is out of your control

You can’t predict how well you are going to cope, or what the practical and/or financial implications of a serious illness are going to be.

For me, one of the toughest things to contend with has been the lack of control. Just when you think you have a clear plan of action, everything changes.

I was scheduled to have a mastectomy last Wednesday. I cleared my work diary, starved myself, arranged sleepovers for the children and dragged my husband out of bed a 5:30am to get to the hospital for my scheduled 7:30am admission.

After waiting for an hour or so to see the surgeon, she advised me that she wasn’t able to operate because the wound from my original surgery hadn’t healed properly and presented too much of an infection risk. The operation has been postponed for two weeks (at least) which is incredibly frustrating.

Trying to get my head back in to work, a necessity because my recovery time will be extended ‘on the other side’, is tough and although I am trying, I don’t think I am being as productive as I would like to be!

I am also having to travel to the hospital at least twice a week to get the wound checked, a 55 mile round trip and at least half a day out of the office. But it isn’t optional – it just has to be done.

Lesson 3 – Life goes on

It would be nice if when one challenge presents itself (like a cancer diagnosis), that challenge is the only thing you need to worry about. Unfortunately, life doesn’t really work like that.

Both businesses and families bring with them their own challenges, and these don’t disappear overnight just because you have something ‘big’ to deal with. While we have been contending with my health issues, my husband’s firm has been affected by external factors that will have a significant impact on our household income.

My eldest will also be starting senior school in September so there are new uniforms and PE Kits to organise, as well as different school runs to contend with and challenging emotions for her to contend with.

Lesson 4 – There are definite positives

Despite the picture of doom and gloom I have painted, there are lots of positives to be drawn from my experience so far.

When the fact that you aren’t actually indestructible smacks you in the face, it focuses the mind on what is important in life. I have done a lot of work on my own personal values in the past, using the concept of the mindful money tree as a context, but this experience has highlighted how important it is to really live by your values – it is too easy to get caught up in the day to day and loose sight of what life should be about.

There are so many things to be grateful for, but they are easily missed if you don’t make an effort to look for them.

Lesson 5 – Time flies by

When we bought our current house in 2006 my husband and I took out life insurance with critical illness cover to make sure that, should the worst happen, the mortgage would be paid off. Since 2006 life has been busy. Relevant highlights include:

- Having two children (now 11 and 8)

- Extending our house (which involved extending our mortgage)

- Buying an investment property (with the assistance of another mortgage)

- Building a business with employees (who are reliant on the profitability of the business to support their own families and lifestyles)

Doing the job I do you would think that I would be on top of my changing financial circumstances but, like the plumber with the leaky tap, I am guilty of not addressing my own finances with as much diligence as I would do my clients. It’s too late now, but I wish I had adjusted my insurance arrangements to fit with my changing circumstances over time.

I am thankful that I have some cover in place. I will benefit from a lump sum that will help to reduce our liabilities and in turn our regular outgoings, giving us a bit of breathing space. This has been invaluable for my ‘peace of mind’ given everything else that is going on. If I hadn’t had this cover in place, I dread to think how I would be feeling and if I would even be coping.

However, I know that if I had made some relatively small adjustments to my insurance policies and committed a small additional amount each month, probably less than the cost of a daily coffee, the situation could have gone from manageable (as we are now) to comfortable.

I am quite embarrassed to be writing about this really – I feel as though I should have had everything sorted, and that I should be able to breeze through this unaffected. The reality is though that I’m human. This is me admitting my fallibility and trying to make a positive difference in other people’s lives by encouraging them to think about addressing those risks we don’t like to think about.

A Few Practical Actions:

List out any liabilities you have, how much is outstanding and what they are costing you each month.

Create a monthly budget and work out what you really need to live off each month.

Finish each day by noting three ‘good things’ for the day.

Dig out the paperwork for existing protection arrangements you have in place (including any sick pay you are entitled to and death in service or other employment benefits), think about:

- How much cover you have got?

- How long does cover run for and is this long enough?

- What you are covered for (loss of income, critical illness, death?)

- What is it costing you?

In keeping with our commitment to align personal finances with desired lifestyles, even when those lifestyles face setbacks, we are offering independent lifestyle ‘risk assessments’ during August and September to help you to identify how well positioned you are to cope financially should you be affected by illness or accident.

Contact us today to arrange your complimentary discovery session.

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