You work hard to finish your education at one of the top schools in the country. Your efforts pay off, and you secure your first full-time job. You can afford to pay your day-to-day bills and even start chipping away at the student loans that accompany your degree. You do have some savings, but you’d also be lying if you said you didn’t have some credit card debt.
Regardless, you and yours make it work, and as the incomes start to rise, your financial health gains some relative stability. You keep following that path, eventually purchasing your very own real estate together and maybe even booking an overseas vacation to satisfy your travel bugs. You feel good, distancing yourself from the struggles of student budgets year after year.
Unfortunately, disease doesn’t take much notice of where you are in life. There’s no convenient time for a cancer diagnosis – and financial matters only add to the already challenging emotional and physical symptoms of treatment.
Matt Pecout and Yi Chen, graduates from the University of California, Los Angeles, know this reality well.
“We [had] just started to accumulate some wealth and we purchased our first place,” Yi explained. “At the time, we were like, ‘Okay, finally we can start to enjoy our life and plan for the future.”
Adjusting to a new reality
The two research scientists met working in the same lab at UCLA, eventually marrying in 2013 at the Beverly Hills Courthouse. The couple shied away from the steep cost of a large wedding, but did splurge on a honeymoon trip to Australia.
About a year later, Matt accepted a position as an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the couple moved to Boston. Once Yi finished her post-doctoral training and transitioned into her current job, the couple started to feel confident about their financial situation.
Sadly, Matt was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in December 2018. With little warning that Matt was ill, the couple’s world quickly turned on its head, and they faced a slew of uncertainties.
“We went from everything was all good, to several close calls, to the worst,” said Yi. “Everything – physically, emotionally, socially – was very difficult.”
Reaching out for financial help
Worried that neither of them would be able to work during Matt’s intense treatment, Yi realized she needed to figure out how they were going to pay for the care he needed. Reading scary statistics online about how cancer treatments can bankrupt families and lead to poor outcomes for patients, only fueled Yi’s determination.
That’s when she found Family Reach and enrolled in our Financial Planning for Cancer program, developed in partnership with the Foundation for Financial Planning (FFP) and the Financial Planning Association (FPA). Our Resource Navigators quickly paired Yi and Matt with a pro-bono financial planner, Craig C., who helped them secure financial resources, manage their cash flow and debt, review medical insurance and disability options, and realign priorities while Matt was in treatment.
“As much as we want everyone to plan a long-term future, Yi and Matt included, I just wanted Yi to have permission and understand that maybe that wasn’t the most important thing for today,” Craig said.
Planning for the other side of cancer
As Matt focused on healing, Yi worked with Craig to adjust their retirement funds to better align with their current situation, ensuring they could access their money if they needed to use it for treatment costs in the near future. They also discussed spending and income, developing a budgeting plan focused on sustaining as much of their lifestyle as possible while also preparing for the unknown future of Matt’s treatment course.
Matt expressed his gratitude for the pro-bono program, saying “For me, it’s a huge peace of mind because my big concern is that Yi’s taken care of if I’m not here.”
With their money matters handled, Yi feels confident that despite the uncertainty, they can seek every and all treatment options, including those that may not be covered by their insurance, without suffering a debilitating financial impact.
“I’m very grateful that I found Family Reach and it connected me to Financial Planning for Cancer, and ultimately, to Craig,” she said. “When we make it through this difficult time, we’ll have plenty of time to invest for the future.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with the financial burden of cancer, learn more about Financial Planning for Cancer today.
Always walking the fine line between her right and left brain, Stevie brings her creative and strategic thinking to her role as Marketing Coordinator. Through writing and design, she amplifies Family Reach’s voice and puts financial toxicity in the spotlight.