Parallels Between the Psychology of Money and Life After Cancer

I recently read a book about the psychology of money, and actually related much of the content to my life after osteosarcoma.

These days I find myself in a transitional phase in life. While I’m no longer actively receiving chemotherapy at the hospital, I spend my days healing at home and recovering from a non-stop battle to overcome osteosarcoma, a rare and aggressive bone cancer.

I treat my health like a full-time job and thanks to a ton of hard work as well as great luck, have been fortunate enough to improve a situation where I was given less than a 10% survival rate.

As I continue to recover from severe physical and emotional trauma, I’m at a place where I’ve been giving thought to a future outside of thinking about cancer all day. Part of that has revolved around reading more inspirational books and trying to motivate myself. One that particularly resonated with me was “The Psychology of Money: Timeless Lessons on Wealth, Greed, and Happiness” by Morgan Housel. There was plenty of useful information on managing finances, but I actually related many of his points on a broader life spectrum.

Here are a few examples of concepts that struck home.

“Your success as an investor will be determined by how you respond to punctuated moments of terror, not the years spent on cruise control.”

This made me think of how blessed I am to be in a healthy and supportive relationship. My wife was only my fiancée at the time I was diagnosed— I was 30 years old and while things had been going really well for us up until then, she certainly hadn’t signed up for the walk through hell that would ensue.

I honestly don’t know if I would have survived without her constant support. The woman is a superhero, and when I think of all the insanely scary situations we’ve endured together, years on end of living in constant survival mode, it’s sad but also makes me feel blessed, proud and confident in us as a couple. We really have persevered through such dark times together in a way that’s made us stronger, and I recognize how fortunate I am to have her in my life.

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

While my wife and I are blessed that I’m around today to rebuild our lives, it’s not the easiest transition back from a world revolving around cancer to life back in “the real world.”

Prior to my diagnosis, my wife and I started out with more traditional expectations living in New York City — striving for fast-paced careers, a nice house, to start a family, etc. That changed for us once my health took a hit, but most of our inner circle remains full of couples living that exact life, dual high paying incomes and all the materialistic niceties that come with it. I’m fully aware that money doesn’t equate to happiness and that everyone has their private struggles, but when the nice cars and photos of cute kids are all you’re seeing it can be hard to not get sucked into that world and generate feelings of lack.

I meditate, journal and take weekly therapy sessions so I have my coping mechanisms and continuously work on reframing and focusing on gratitude, but still… It’s hard when you lack a sense of belonging for people going through a life situation similar to yours. There are just not too many other guys in their 30s who’ve dealt with the kind of situation I have.

Housel’s point, however, reminds me to stay grounded on appreciating what I do have and remembering that things have been and can be much, much worse.

“What the market did this year or whether we’ll have a recession next year is part of a game I’m not playing so I don’t pay attention to it and am in no danger of being persuaded by it.”

Grownup strategies like buying homes instead of renting, catching low interest rates, raising children at an early enough age all seem to rise to the conversational surface these days, mainly because it’s what the people around me have on their mind.

I must 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 managing an entirely different set of triggers and threats that the average person has no idea about. 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 I worried about these kinds of things just come with the territory of life after cancer. On paper, of course I’d like to make perfectly optimized decisions across the board, but that’s just not realistic and it’s a waste of energy holding myself accountable to those standards.

I love the way Morgan Housel pointed out the importance of knowing what game we’re playing to avoid getting swept up in everything around you. Sometimes that simple reminder lowers the intensity of all our decision making and offers a calming effect. And in the game of life, and specifically life after cancer, I’m always grateful for anything that helps make the task ahead feel more achievable, or at least less overwhelming.

It may not all happen overnight, but I do believe I’m making progress one day at a time.

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