Parallels between the psychology of money and life after cancer

These days I am in a transition phase in life. While I’m no longer on active chemotherapy in the hospital, I spend my days at home healing and recovering from a non-stop struggle to overcome osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive bone cancer.

I treat my health like a full time job and thanks to a lot of hard work and good luck I’ve been fortunate to improve a situation where I had less than a 10% survival rate.

As I continue to recover from severe physical and emotional trauma, I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve spent all day contemplating a future where I don’t think about cancer. Part of it revolved around reading more inspirational books and trying to motivate myself. One I particularly enjoyed was Morgan Housel’s The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness. There was a lot of useful information about managing finances, but I actually related many of his points to a broader spectrum of life.

Here are some examples of concepts that have convinced.

“Your success as an investor will be determined by how you respond to momentary scares, not by the years you spend on cruise control.”

This got me thinking about how blessed I am to be in a healthy and supportive relationship. My wife was just my fiancee at the time of the diagnosis – I was 30 years old and while we had been doing really well up to that point, she certainly hadn’t signed up for the walk through hell that followed.

I honestly don’t know if I would have survived without their constant support. The woman is a superhero and when I think of all the insanely scary situations we went through together, years in constant survival mode, it’s sad, but I also feel blessed, proud and confident in us as a couple. We truly got through such dark times together in a way that made us stronger and I acknowledge how lucky I am to have her in my life.

“The hardest financial skill is making the goalpost stand. Modern capitalism is a pro at two things: generating wealth and generating envy.”

While my wife and I are blessed that I am here today to rebuild our lives, it is not the easiest transition back from a world centered around cancer to back to “real world” life.

Before my diagnosis, my wife and I began living in New York City with more traditional expectations—we aspired to have a fast career, a nice home, a family, etc. That all changed for us when my health took a hit, but the Most of our inner circle is still filled with couples living that exact life, with two high-paying incomes and all the materialistic niceties that come with it. I am fully aware that money does not equate to happiness and that everyone has their private struggles, but just seeing the beautiful cars and photos of cute kids can make it hard not to get drawn into this world and generate feelings of lack.

I meditate, journal, and attend weekly therapy sessions so I have my coping mechanisms and continually work to reformulate and focus on gratitude, but still… It’s hard when you lack a sense of belonging for people who are are going through a life situation similar to yours. There just aren’t many other guys in their 30s who’ve handled the kind of situation I’m in.

However, Housel’s argument reminds me to keep my feet on the ground, appreciate what I have, and remind myself that things were, and can be, much, much worse.

“What the market has done this year or whether we have a recession next year is part of a game I don’t play, so I don’t pay attention to that and I don’t run the risk of being convinced.”

Adult strategies like buying a house instead of renting it, getting low interest rates, raising kids early enough all seem to be surfacing the conversation these days, mostly because people around me are thinking about it.

I have to constantly remind myself that my circumstances are unique and that it’s often best to stay in my own lane. My wife and I are constantly dealing with very different triggers and threats that the average person is unaware of. Just the other day I came across a bump on my arm. It hurt like a bruise but felt more like a cyst. And of course, the first thing that concerns me about things like this is the post-cancer area. Of course, on paper, I want to make perfectly optimized decisions everywhere, but that’s just not realistic and it’s a waste of energy to go by those standards.

I love the way Morgan Housel pointed out the importance of knowing what game we’re playing in order not to get carried away with everything around you. Sometimes this simple reminder reduces the intensity of all our decision-making and provides a calming effect. And in the game of life, and especially life after cancer, I’m always grateful for anything that helps make the task at hand feel more achievable, or at least less overwhelming.

It might not all happen overnight, but I believe I’m making progress every day.

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