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Financial Hardship and Terminal Illness: A Story from Dr. William July

We often meet members of the cancer and chronic illness community that are willing to share their stories with us.  And in many cases, the process of helping them uncover stories have the power to help others who are seeking terminal illness financial help.

We’d like to share one of those stories today. Dr. William July is a clinical psychologist and bestselling relationship author whose wife Jamey was struck by a devastating illness.  But it was not her journey alone; as he wrote “We were struck by chronic illness in the prime of our lives since a marriage is a dual journey and a family is a system”.  Discovering that there were few books or guides available on how to work together through illness, they wrote a book entitled A Husband, A Wife, & An Illness; Living Life Beyond Chronic Illness.  It’s an excellent read that covers a range of important topics, including a chapter on “Money Matters”, which discusses the financial burden of dealing with a terminal or late-stage illness, excerpted here.

A Caretaker’s Financial Frustration

“The sheer fear of not being able to provide constantly haunts the caretaker.  Though you’re doing your best you are always aware of the fact that you don’t control all the factors that influence your ability to take care of your spouse.

Perhaps nothing is more frustrating for the well spouse than the heavy financial load we carry when our spouse has a debilitating illness.  No matter how much I work we still have endless medical bills that aren’t all covered by insurance.  Basically, I have to work three times as hard as I would without the illness in our lives.  First, I have to generate the income that I would normally earn.  Second, I have the earn additional money to compensate for the fact that my spouse can’t work.  And third, I have to earn even more money to pay the bills created by the illness.  And it still isn’t enough!

I listen to some great financial experts on the radio but their advice doesn’t quite fit our situation.  Financial gurus tell all of us to have three to six months of savings set aside for a rainy day.  But even if you’ve done that, a chronic illness can deplete those reserves in a short period of time.  And it’s always funny to me when I hear the media money experts telling people to cut out their Starbucks coffee or stop spending so much on clothes so they can save and invest more.  Couple facing illness don’t have that problem.  We’re on a bare-bones survival budget.

If the loss of your health (or your spouse’s health) and the psychological strain, despair, and fear aren’t enough, there’s yet another hideous monster lurking in the shadows.  That is the monster that eats away at your personal finances.  Prepare for battle with this monster.”

A Financial Action Plan

1. Get to know your budget

Everything is radically reduced to a financial survival mode for couples facing illness. However, you still have to figure out a way to make it work. Sit down and carve out a budget strategy that you can live with. It may require you to sell your home, sell a car, work more hours, or make other sacrifices. But find a strategy that works for you.  Denial isn’t a strategy and neither is management-by-crisis.

2. Remember that you are a team

Make the financial aspect of your relationship a team effort. Rather than having one person taking responsibility for everything, find something that both partners can do in the household financial system. For example, Jamey wasn’t able to work but was a valuable bookkeeper.

3. No matter what your situation is, bless it

Although bills may be draining your money, if you are actually able to pay your bills, be thankful you can do that. As a practice, look for the upside in things. In your position right now, you can’t afford to dwell on negative thoughts.

4. Make contact

Contact your creditors. While some will be unreasonable at least try to explain the circumstances to them. Some may work with you as long as they can. It’s a temporary fix at best, but it may ease the pressure.

5. Stay in close contact with the IRS

Contact the Internal Revenue Service and let them know of your situation. You may be surprised to hear this, but I found the IRS to be the most understanding about our problem. They worked with me from the time our debt spiraled and created a program that allowed us to get current on our taxes and resolve all the issues.

6. Get work, any work!

Working provides at least three payoffs. First, it gives you some sort of cash flow, no matter how small. Second, it allows you the feeling of actively doing something to resolve your issues, even if it may only be a drop in the bucket. And third, by working, you’ll unlock ideas for other employments opportunities or more income. Positive thoughts and action yield positive results.

7. Save and invest something. Anything!

It may not be much more than a few dollars, but save and invest money just for the energy of it. Open a separate account and put something in there each month…it may feel like nothing but it gets you into the habit of saving. Saving money is like making time. There never seems to be enough of it so you just have to make yourself do it.

A Husband, A Wife, & An Illness

Jamey Lacy July passed away last year.  But the book she produced with her husband leaves a legacy of giving and positive spirit in her memory, and we’re proud to have played a part in helping them navigate the financial challenges of her diagnosis.

A Husband, A Wife, & An Illness: Living Life Beyond Chronic Illness is available for purchase on Amazon.

A Husband, A Wife, & An Illness: Living Life Beyond Chronic Illness

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