What would you do if you knew you were dying? How would a cancer diagnosis affect your personal finance decisions? The Travelin’ Man from Stuff You Oughtta Know isn’t dying yet, but he’s had a scare.

Here’s his story (this is not written by J.D.): I was given my very first cancer scare last week. I have to tell you — it freaked the hell out of me. For that matter, “scare” may not be the most accurate word. The doctor told me that I have cancer — I am waiting for the results of the biopsy before I am really willing to accept his diagnosis. Anyway, the “freaked out” part is that I just don’t know what to do — and there isn’t as much information out there as you would think, about the things that I care about.

Just in the past week I have found myself doing the things that I normally do — and then stopping and questioning the sanity afterwards. For instance, I added to my long-term stock holdings last week. Again, I don’t think I am going to die, but should I be more conscious of potentially needing the money to be spent on something else short-term — that would be more important than a few more shares of stock?

Some of the questions I have are (and all assume the worst-case scenario, for the sake of discussion, even though I don’t think I am in the worst-case scenario boat):

  • Should I alter contributions to my 403b retirement plan? I get a match of 100% up to 5% of salary. I currently contribute 10%.
  • Should I divert more of my paycheck earmarked for investment into a high-yield savings account, at least for the short-term?
  • Of the money I already have invested, do I need to consider re-allocating my assets to a less risky portfolio (Hey, I am young — it is almost all stocks — and weighted heavily to international ~35% or so)?
  • I don’t have a will or living directive written. Is there a process that I need to follow?
  • I am single with no dependents — how would that alter your way of thinking versus being married with a few kids to take care of?
  • My employer is very generous with paid leave, and I have about 400 hours of sick time accrued. How important is it to manage that time versus looking at things like short-term disability (pays about 2/3), or is that even an option?
  • Given the likelihood of remission, but possibly having to deal with this again in the future, how would you alter choosing health insurance packages? Would something like AFLAC be beneficial during the next sign-up period?
  • At 35 years old, is it too early to start thinking about long-term care insurance (again, single with no dependents)?
  • While my credit is not stellar, I have made great strides to improve it (the only outstanding debt I have right now is my mortgage and student loans – the total of which is about $45k). Are there any “best ways” to handle in the impending medical expenses?
  • Are there any other spending or saving habits that you would adjust?

This just scratches the tip of the iceberg of questions that are flowing through my head now, but it is a start.

Let me say that I am not looking for sympathy (heck, I don’t even think the cancer diagnosis is true yet!), and, even if it is true, I don’t think I am going to die. I am not looking for an outpouring of support and prayer (though, I am not going to kick anyone away with a better pipeline to the “Big Guy” than myself), but what I hope to find is excellent, practical, situational personal finance advice for a niche that seems to be lacking. Thanks for reading all of this gibberish. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

Again: this is not my story — this was written by Travelin’ Man. But his question hits home for me. My family has a history of cancer, especially at a young age. My father died from cancer just before his 50th birthday. My 46-year-old cousin is fighting it now. I am 38. This stuff worries me every day. Madame X at My Open Wallet addressed this question today at her site. What advice can you offer for Travelin’ Man?

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