Thankfulness in 2020. Being Grateful Despite Cancer and Covid19

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I’ll say it again, I am grateful this year despite my son’s cancer and the pandemic.

Now, I’m not great about gratitude. The closest thing I have to a formal gratitude and mindfulness practice is when we talk about our “one happy thing” at bedtime with my son. Speaking of, good reminder that we haven’t been doing so well with it lately.

I have so much to be thankful for this year. For my own mental health, I am choosing to focus on what I am grateful for in spite of cancer and covid. Though this year has been hard for many, I do hope that a small silver lining can be gaining some more perspective on what matters and what we are all thankful for.

Maybe that perspective can help us realign our goals to make sure that as things eventually normalize again in a post pandemic world, we are focusing on what really matters most. For me, that’s my family and our health (physical and mental) and so often, finance is the backbone to ensuring those things. Which means, hopefully a renewed focus on holistic financial health for the blog.

Personal Blog Related Updates

A couple of plugs as I refocus on “my why” and blogging goals for the new year. My tagline is “Finance | Family | Health” so that is what everything circles back to.

As things settle down for me and I have space in my mind and heart, I do hope to begin consulting and coaching for people who feel a connection to me and my writing. I’d like to help you all meet your financial goals so you can focus on family and health as well.

New tools

I’ve long advocated for Personal Capital (<– join here and get $20) as my favorite tool for tracking finances.

I’ve recently partnered with YNAB (You Need a Budget) for those who need more of a structured than DIY approach. YNAB offers a 34 day free trial.
I really suggest you check it out if you decide that now is the time to take control of your money, because the first step is creating a budget.
I know, I’m not using tools like this anymore. But I did years ago, and this is a fan favorite among everyone I talk to for budgeting tools that work.

Refocus on blogging

I’ve been a bad blogger. I admit it. But, I’m ready to recommit. I was on a good track in 2018 and that got derailed with my son’s cancer diagnosis.

Expect to see some changes around here! A renewed effort to blog more, for one. Some guests posts that I think would be useful to my readers. Maybe some real thought and strategy for once. Incidentally, some structured blogging may be one of the few ways to get some structure into my life again. So, stay tuned over the coming months. I appreciate each and every one of you who takes the time to read. Drop me a comment now and then!

Gratitude in 2020

I feel guilty to say that 2020 has in many ways been a great year for me. But, you have to understand, my life has been a veritable shit show since almost exactly 2 years ago.

This year I have been able to be home with my son. He finished cancer treatment in March, and I am so grateful we are done! But even our vague plans have been wildly thrown asunder. Nevertheless, I’m so grateful that he appears to be generally healthy and active cancer free. That’s more complex than it sounds when one has cancer, and we’re monitoring things. For the moment, we appreciate the wealth of his general health.

Despite being on unemployment while taking a leave of absence to protect my son (and myself) during the pandemic, my finances remain in order. I am so grateful that through a variety of factors, we have been able to maintain a firm financial footing through two years of cancer and now pandemic. So much so in fact, my net worth actually crossed into the millionaire range in this wild year of 2020.

Thanksgiving (and Christmas) will always be a somber reminder of life before cancer.

November of 2018 we were on vacation in Hawaii. I was looking for a stable job after factors coincided to leave me effectively unemployed. We decided to go to Hawaii knowing if I took a new job, I’d have no vacation for a year.

By the second week of the three week trip, it was apparent my son was sick. We figured something acute with a 2 year old being home sick and tired of being in the car compounding things. By week 3 of our trip, fevers had started. We were basically confined to our rental for Thanksgiving and I was getting really worried. Cancer crossed my mind, but I quelled my fears.

We came home, I tried to focus, I tried to put my sites back on my barely budding freelance writing efforts. My son’s doctor said it was a self limiting infection, and he happened to be anemic. I dug in hard trying to do what I could with a kid on my lap, sick, 24/7.

Powering through with productivity

It’s oddly depressing looking at how much material I pumped out end of November and December of 2018. Probably one of the most productive periods on my blog. I know myself, I was keeping myself busy to avoid my fears.

Those fears were realized on Christmas Eve. When I made sure to get us in for a follow appointment as my son was getting even sicker. My goal was to get him a feeding tube. I thought, how can a child with an infection fight it if they can’t eat? A couple nights before, had felt the tumor too. I told myself it was stool and he was constipated.

Our pediatrician got us in and a few hours later we drove home in a haze, crying. We threw together a week of clothes, got a hold of a kennel to take our dog, and dropped the dog off on the way to the children’s hospital. We spent our Christmas Eve driving 3 hours to Portland, Oregon. Checking in directly to the children’s oncology unit about 8 pm. And that’s effectively where we lived for the next 13 months until January of 2020.

Cancer turned our world upside down, but I’m still grateful.

Here is my intial post where I let people know what was going on:

And here’s a major post in the midst of things, with some focus on finances

So, that was my life from December 2018 until January 2020. Mostly living in the hospital with my son. We stayed at Ronald McDonald House in Portland and in a friend’s guest unit at times. By mid August 2019 we we’re able to start going home between treatments more frequently. I was able to start working a day or two a week when I was home with more reliability. Which only translated to like 2 days a month, really.

2020 Was Not What We Expected

My son continued treatment with his at home meds until end of February. By that time, my pharmacist background had me getting concerned about what the brewing corona virus news was going to mean. Would it be like the previous SARS outbreak? I had a gut feeling this was going to be bigger. Maybe I was more worried because my son didn’t have much of an immune system.

I was growing more and more concerned because we were supposed to travel to New York for about a month somewhere between April and May. This was all assuming that my son’s official end of treatment scans went well, of course.

We would have went to New York was to enroll in a “post treatment” cancer vaccine clinical trial. It would have us traveling to NYC 6-8 times over the course of the year for vaccines and trial procedures. This was, me being me, a BIG money concern. That much travel from Oregon wouldn’t be cheap for my family of 3. And it would be our family of 3 going. We had managed to stay together through all of the cancer treatment and we wouldn’t separate for that. Not to mention the thought of relocating to Manhattan for a month. The most I’ve ever paid for hotels were a few days in Manhattan after a trip to India.

I expected 2020 to be full of unknowns.

When your child has cancer, unknowns are your only known. We were used to living day to day, week to week. I didn’t even think about things in monthly terms.

So, my big questions for 2020 were will my son be showing no evidence of cancer at the end of treatment in March and will we be going to New York for the vaccine trial.

Smaller questions: How will we pay for New York? How will my job handle this? Can I go to FinCon in Long Beach (I bought a ticket in hopes)? Can we get back to Hawaii so we can redo that ill fated trip for my son (he’s obsessed with Hawaii)?

Here’s how my questions played out

COVID “hit” big time, literally en-route to Portland for my son’s end of treatment visit and scans. “Non emergency” appointments were cancelled. He has cancer, we’ve got a whole team of people to deal with from audiologists to physical therapists. I had appointments as we drove up, I got calls at 7 pm that many had been cancelled as we arrived.

Before we even did his MRI and CT, we made the decision with the oncologists that travel to New York in April was simply going to be too risky. We had to make the call because there was a third scan and two days of injections and sedation for this extra test. The cancer vaccine, though promising, is still in a very small clinical trial. A virus that was beginning to kill people in large numbers by March was a bigger risk, we all agreed. Hours on planes? Public transport in NYC? Housing options shut down (Ronald McDonald House in NYC shut down early in March due to Covid in house, for example).

So, there went those questions. No New York, no worrying about paying for that. Some fear and disappointment about health. But reduced stress and anxiety in many other ways and a better financial footing.

No Evidence of Cancer

THIS is the singular thing in 2020 I am most thankful for. I may be able to say I’m grateful for the perspectives that my son’s cancer has given me. But honestly, I’m not grateful for cancer. Though he was clear in March, we had a scare in September where it may have come back (unlikely, but still being monitored).

Clearly, we didn’t go to Hawaii. I know some people are traveling, but we have our own health to worry about and we’re not selfish assholes. There, I said it.

Fincon in Long Beach got cancelled, but I got to attend the free online FinConX instead and even got a free T-shirt. Maybe I’ll actually have this blog humming along and be able to take better advantage of all the networking and tools when I hopefully make it in 2022. Why 2022? Well, for one, I’m really not certain things will be back “on” enough pandemic wise to consider going in 2021. Secondly, the first travel I plan to do by air will involve that Hawaii repeat, come hell or high water.

Life looks nothing like any of us expected this year. Yet, I am full of gratitude.

But you know what, in the grand scheme of things, we’re doing pretty good in my household.

Here are some of the things I continue to be grateful for:

My son’s cancer is currently under control and we’re enjoying some sense of normalcy for the first time in a year and a half.

We’re in our own home. He eats food (he had an NG feeding tube for over a year). He has all the nerve wracking energy that a preschooler should have.

I kind of already said this, but, we’re home.

You try sharing a hospital bed with a toddler for year and you’ll rethink how much you appreciate your own bed. I could list 5,000 reasons why I’m grateful to be home. But I won’t, because I’m sure you can get it.

I’m on a leave of absence from work.

Now, this is good and bad. Nevertheless, I’m grateful. I’m grateful that my job has allowed this extended leave. My stress has been reduced. I am super grateful that I was able to get unemployment, thanks to the cancer status, to soften the blow a bit. And, though this is in no way, shape, or form the way I wanted to get my “break,” after the shit storm of the last two years I’m honestly not complaining that I get the downtime at home. I don’t think I was ready to fully get back in to life. The pandemic has given the the time off I need, without excuses, for my own mental health.

I am grateful that we had the finances in place to be able to take this leave of absence even if I hadn’t gotten unemployment.

My emergency funds are larger than most at this rate. Those funds that would have went to all of that travel to New York have been shifted to ensuring my family’s safety during the pandemic and my leave of absence.

I am grateful to the mostly friends, not family, who helped us raise funds early on in my son’s cancer journey which have augmented our emergency funds.

I talk about how amazingly well we have done when financial toxicity due to cancer is so universally known. We didn’t do a gofundme or huge fundraising effort. I always felt a bit guilty asking, like I should have been in debt to deserve some help. Rationally, I knew it was wrong, becuase I work hard and really dug deep to stay frugal and fight the YOLO urges (you think YOLO is bad? What about when you’re literally facing life and death?).

We did allow a fundraiser auction by our small community and ongoing love here and there, a bit at a time from friends, mostly online, and a few amazing individuals we know in person. Through that and supporting my son’s amazon wish-list, we were able to make it work.

I have endless gratitude to the friends who have helped take care of the “fun, incidentals and coffee costs” from time to time and let me focus on only the necessities. I am ever grateful to these individuals who shared with us. Many gathered that with my uber-frugal ways, I would not spend on anything other than what I absolutely had to. They definitely have made the last two years more manageable.

I’m grateful that friends from the internet have become real friends.

Really, like, really… these people have been my back bone of support. Many of them are in the “money community” so I have felt safe to explore many of my own fears, misgivings and guilt around money topics especially as it related to cancer. If I need to talk, these people are who I go to first now.

I have gratitude for the perspective that my son’s cancer has given me.

And, I think this is really a point I was trying to make with, yet another, super long post.

Do I wish my son had never gotten cancer? You fucking bet.

Do I wish we weren’t in the midst of a global fucking pandemic? YOU BET.

But we are. My son got cancer. There is a (worsening) pandemic on our hands.

Some things we cannot change (I will refrain from another 2000 words on your personal responsibilities during a pandemic). Trite, but true.

Can you look back on this year and find things to be grateful for?

Can you find examples of where you have found new focus for what matters to you in your life? Are you grateful for the increased time with your immediate family (even if you want to kill them sometimes?). If you have ridden out this pandemic alone, can you find ways this increased period of being along has provided any unique opportunites?

Holding those thoughts in your mind, can you commit yourself to maybe preserving some of the space that this strange time has opened up?

Maybe you learned that your household income did better than expected with a work cut back. That might mean you can can cut back on the grind and start thinking about a “semi retirement lifestyle.” Have you realized you enjoy cooking and save money doing it? Plan to hold that space when things get back to normal.

All of our social calendars have been disrupted. To my surprise, many people have found a great sense of relief in that. Keep that in mind as life moves forward.

There is no greater time to than when life forces it to take advantage of the “unwanted momentum.” Much of the work has already been done in making decisions for you.

You have the freedom to decide how you move forward. And there is nothing like the 10,000 foot perspective given with cancer or Covid to show you things you have to be grateful for, despite it all.

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Regina is That Frugal Pharmacist. She’s a PharmD, mother to a son with cancer, breadwinning wife, personal finance enthusiast, artist, writer, and entrepreneur. Regina’s single-income household has been debt-free, including her home, since she was 28 years old.
Her money approach is “holistic financial health.” She encourages mindful spending, awareness of the non-monetary costs of choices, and aligning personal values with money habits. Regina sees a frugal lifestyle and mindset as an important part of environmental stewardship. As such she’s interested in ongoing efforts towards self-sufficiency and sustainability.

2 thoughts on “Thankfulness in 2020. Being Grateful Despite Cancer and Covid19”

  1. Hey Regina! I’m really glad to hear that the fight is going well (if a cancer fight can go well). No doubt, it’s been hell.

    Still, you’ve found room for gratitude in your life. That’s awesome. And hard. Good on you.

    I hope the renewed blogging effort goes well for you! I see the design around here has changed 🙂

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