There are few things in life that give me as much joy as either a fresh cup of coffee burning down my throat or calculating how much money I saved on a sale or by doing it myself. We just moved into our first home – more on that in next post – and I am sitting at the kitchen island admiring the imperfect perfection of the subway tiles I just installed on the walls. I can hear the imaginary clink of gold coins racking up by how much we saved by doing it instead of hiring someone – though my hands are still splotched with white paint and grout.
Though I love a good deal and can’t help but brag about it, most people are squeamish about money – especially losing it. Some people have a strict policy of not talking numbers about salaries or purchases and most sensitively about medical bills.
Cancer treatment and post treatment life is physically, emotionally, and financially draining. Bills rack up and no matter how poorly or well you feel – the bank account reflects the cancer journey sometimes more than your body.
Can I be really transparent? This is something I haven’t shared with most people and just last week shared with my mom. After chemotherapy and our crisis mode was deactivated, our little family of three struggled financially. During treatment, I went unpaid for six months and the impact rippled through our finances until August 13th of this year – over three years after my last chemotherapy infusion. To feel some type of normal, we took out a personal loan – and though it helped lesson of the wallet gouging during and post treatment bills, the payments stared at me every month – pointing its bony finger at me with shame.
I am no financial guru. I have no get-out-of-debt five step plan. I only know how to work hard, so I did. I pursued more education and in addition to working full-time as a high school teacher, I began teaching as an adjunct English professor at the local community college at nights. We sacrificed a lot – family weddings overseas to night cuddles with Shiloh. One semester I extended myself too far and took naps in the college parking lot between teaching classes with an eye mask.
I know it was no one’s fault I had cancer. No one gave it to me, and I didn’t do anything that could cause it like smoke – but I felt a deep guilt about the impact it had on our money. My body healed and parts of my heart too, but the monthly bill to pay down the loan was another physical reminder that cancer happened. To be honest, some days I want to pretend it never did.
Just like my last infusion, I remember every detail of when I paid the final balance off the loan at the Wells Fargo bank counter two weeks ago. It was anticlimactic, and I kept saying to the tellers working through my covid mask that it was such a big deal.
In a way, I paid off the guilt that wasn’t really mine. A loan for money is borrowing what isn’t yours for a time then returning it with interest. I didn’t borrow only money, but I also feel like I borrowed shame and guilt over what my body put us through – then I gave it back with interest.