What We Don’t Appreciate Until We Lose It by Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

Life happens. Bad things happen to good people. Difficult situations appear without warning. And cancer, when it happens, creates many difficult situations. When these crises occur, we often experience a newfound appreciation for what was previously taken for granted.

What Am I Talking About?

1. Health

Health is taken for granted until it is gone. I’m not talking about the flu or a bad cold. These do pass and life is picked up from where we left off. Once we get past the recuperation from these illnesses, we can in time get back to our normal activities.

However, cancer is a different situation. Being diagnosed is infinitely more devastating than a cold or the flu. It has the capacity to stop you in your tracks. I know cancer did for me. All of a sudden, what I used to be able to do before cancer was no longer possible, at least not during the treatment phase. After treatment, I definitely had to re-evaluate how I lived my life because there were changes both physical and emotional that made a return to pre-cancer lifestyle a challenge. Never again have I taken my health for granted.

2. Ability to earn an income

When health disappears with the resultant restrictions, the ability to earn an income is most often affected. During cancer treatment, many people are not able to work. For some, there is short term disability available through work. Critical illness insurance is another option if a person has planned ahead. Unemployment insurance may also be available, but only for a limited time. In all cases, a full income is not coming in.

More than the loss of a full income is the sense of vulnerability when we lose control of our independence. That is how I felt when I couldn’t work during treatment. Even after treatment, I was still so fatigued that it took time to build myself up to the point where I could work. It meant part time work and living on a strict budget.

Options Become Limited

The above issues are not necessarily exclusive to a cancer diagnosis. Other conditions such as CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), heart disease, Lyme disease, kidney dysfunctions, etc. are a few examples where health has been compromised which leads to limited options for income. Accidents are another situation when bodily damage occurs.

When the loss of health and the ability to earn an income happened to me, it was the fact that I had to rely on others or other sources of income to get by. There were points in life where I had been laid off and had no job, but with my health I was able to find something to keep me afloat financially. With no health, this wasn’t an option. It was scary.

Why Do We Take Health For Granted?

I often ask this question and have come up with the answer in my mind that most people feel it will never happen to them. That was my case. I never in a million years thought I’d get cancer. Heart disease was in my family, so I was doing the risk reduction for heart problems. Fear is another factor – just too scary to think about. It is human nature, I guess, to simply file away negative possibilities and focus on what is happening now. I get this. However, prevention and planning is always a good option – it’s just plain

What Can We Do?

Prevention and risk reduction can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle.

1. Health – what can I do to maintain my health so that I don’t head in the direction of major illness? For me, this involves major self-care (exercise, nutrition, stress management, balance). These are the key elements required to live well. Even if we can’t outrun the unexpected, such as an accident, through the above elements, we can usually pull ourselves back to health at some acceptable level.

2. Ability to Earn An Income – how can I assure myself that if I did become unable to earn an income, how would I manage? What would I put in place to support me in these times? Besides investments, which can deteriorate, there are ways to generate residual income – income generated consistently based on previous work. It could be a skill that we can do on a part time or limited basis that will generate a decent income. We don’t all have these skills. In this case, financial planning with insurance coverage for eventualities.

In life, I have always found that it is best to look at these options before the crisis arises. Even in risk taking, I look at a situation, envision the worst that could happen, and if I can live with the worst case scenario, I move forward.

Right now, the economy is suffering in many industries. In Alberta, it is the oil and gas industry. Its impact will trickle down to other industries as the ripple moves out. It’s a time of learning to live on less, enjoy the simple things in life, and realize that how much ‘stuff’ you have does not define how happy you are. Stuff can actually be a burden. Finding what fulfills you is more rewarding than chasing dollars. I’m not saying that money is not important. We all have the requirement to satisfy our basic needs.

When I grew up, it was after WWII. The mentality of my parents was shaped by the war when supplies were limited. No one had excess. But I know my parents had fun. They enjoyed a wonderful circle of true friends who were there for each other throughout their lives. Even in hard times, they created a bond of appreciation for what was important in life – relationships.

Even if you have been diagnosed with cancer, there is still time to make shifts. It worked for me. My shift didn’t happen overnight. It was a process of digging down to find what was truly important in my life. To define my belief system and work to stay true to my authentic self. It is still a process in development. My advice to you is simply:

  • Spend time where you are being fulfilled. This will reduce stress and create happiness.
  • Figure out what is important in your life. It is a guide to who you truly are.
  • Regain your health and keep it by finding out what works for you.
  • Plan financially how to navigate the ‘down’ times.
  • Share with those you love the importance of prevention and risk reduction.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

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